Photo by James Bareham / The Verge
Each of the big five tech companies has been caught secretly using human contractors to listen to conversations recorded by their gadgets and services. Pro-privacy Apple is one of those companies, and thanks to a report from the Irish Examiner, we may know a little more about the actual work Apple contractors did, including having to listen to an arduous 1,000 Siri recordings every day.
Apple’s Siri assistant currently records and sends snippets of your voice requests back to Apple to be studied so that Apple can try to make Siri better at giving you what you want. In July, The Guardian reported that contractors also hear some rather personal things, like “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.” A contractor that spoke with the Irish Examiner said his job involved noting when Siri could actually help or if Siri was triggered accidentally. The Guardian said contractors “regularly” hear confidential information, but the contractor speaking with the Irish Examiner said the recordings “occasionally” had “personal data or snippets of conversations.”
it sounds similar to how Microsoft contractors transcribe Cortana recordings
There’s a reason why we’re likely learning more details about the contractors’ work now: they may be out of a job. Apple has temporarily stopped using contractors to listen to Siri conversations, and the Irish Examiner reports that Apple no longer needed the services of Cork, Ireland-based contracting company GlobeTech, which employed the contractor who spoke to the Irish Examiner.
Neither Apple nor GlobeTech is denying that there may have been layoffs: GlobeTech merely referred the Irish Examiner to a statement that said it ended a “client project” early. Apple said in a statement to the paper that it is “working closely with our partners” as it reviews its processes around grading Siri conversations. Apple has not replied to a request for comment from The Verge.
The work Siri contractors reportedly did sounds similar to how Microsoft contractors transcribe Cortana recordings to help train Microsoft’s voice assistant. One of the Cortana contractors told Motherboard that contractors are expected to transcribe and classify roughly three “tasks” every minute. For the Siri contractors, transcribing 1,000 voice commands means they likely had to do about two per minute, assuming they were working an eight-hour day.