Apple terminates contracts of people hired to listen to Siri recordings


HomePod siri
Contractors listened to around 1,000 Siri recordings each shift.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple has laid off the contractors whose job it was to listen to Siri recordings to improve the quality of Apple’s voice assistant.

Contractors in Ireland had their fixed term contracts “abruptly terminated” this week. This followed Apple suspending the practice last month. During each shift, employees supposedly listened to 1,000 Siri recordings.

The Irish Examiner says that employees had to listen to and grade the recordings. They were listening for instances in which Siri may have been accidentally activated or was unable to help with a query.

“I understood the reasons why the company was doing it,” one former contractor said. “But I could see why people would feel it was a breach of privacy because they weren’t telling people.”

The report notes that the contractors worked at Globetech, a company in Cork, Ireland. They were advised this week that their contracts were being terminated. It’s not clear how many people carried out the job, although there may have been more than 300.

“We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when we started that meant we couldn’t talk about what we did in detail,” a former contractor said. “We were not allowed to say we worked for Apple.”

The Siri listening blowback

Apple said that it would stop its process of listening to a certain portion of Siri recordings for “grading” purposes. This followed a backlash against Apple after news broke that it shared recordings made by Siri with third-party contractors.

A report by the UK’s Guardian newspaper said that contractors had accidentally heard, “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”

Other companies like Google and Amazon also listen in to a small sample of smart speaker enquiries. However, Apple suffered greater levels of blowback than most. That’s because it has frequently talked up privacy as one of its defining values.

Source: Irish Examiner