Laid off Apple contractors listened to 1,000 Siri recordings per shift

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2019
Workers employed in Ireland to monitor and grade Siri recordings for Apple have now lost their jobs, as listening to Siri recordings stops.




According to the Irish Examiner, workers in Cork, Ireland, are believed to have lost their jobs as Apple has reportedly suspended all listening to Siri recordings. Over 300 people were employed to do this quality control monitoring of Siri's effectiveness, and one reports they were expected to listen to around 1,000 recordings per shift.

An Apple spokesperson talked to the Examiner about the decision to halt the listening. Apple said that it made the decision to stop the program so it could take time to review the program.

The listening in Ireland was done by workers who had been hired on fixed-term contracts as data analysts with Globetech, based at Cork Airport Business Park. The staff were required to transcribe the recordings and grade Siri's response according to various criteria, such as whether Siri was invoked accidentally.

"They [the Siri recordings] were about a few seconds long," an ex-employee, who cannot be named because he or she was under a non-disclosure agreement, told the Irish Examiner. "Occasionally we would hear personal data or snippets of conversations, but mostly it would be Siri commands."

The staff were required to transcribe the recordings and grade Siri's response according to various criteria, such as whether Siri was invoked accidentally.

"I understood the reasons why the company was doing it," continued the ex-employee, "but I could see why people would feel it was a breach of privacy because they weren't telling people."

Apple actually did tell and always has told people about the program, if perhaps not as transparently as it could have. The disclosure in terms of service spanning a decade, and on Apple's privacy page wasn't enough to stop a 'whistleblower' in July claiming Apple was doing this in secret.

Following those claims, Apple has suspended all such listening. The Irish Examiner reports seeing documentation from Globetech informing its staff that Apple has in fact ceased all such transcription and voice grading work.

Apple's spokesperson responded to the Examiner about the job losses.

"We believe that everyone should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, this includes our own employees and the suppliers we work with in Ireland and around the world." Apple said. "We're working closely with our partners as we do this to ensure the best possible outcome for our suppliers, their employees and our customers around the world."

Apple will let users opt out of Siri quality grading programs in the future. For now, though, to be sure that Apple doesn't have any recordings of you, you can turn Siri and dictation off and on again to purge what it may have retained.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    I hope this "whistleblower" (read, idiot) feels good about being the catalyst for that many people out of work.
    DAalsethchaickacornchipwatto_cobrabshankjony0
  • Reply 2 of 24
    I dunno... I feel that Apple is just getting dumped on a lot these days. They try to do the right thing while other companies are so blatantly dishonest and not under the same scrutiny. Like the cleaning credit card stuff... so what... how about we also acknowledge that the design of their phone app for apple card just leaves everything in the dust. Sigh. Somehow Apple has become the spouse that keeps trying to do right and just getting accusations thrown back at them.
    luisfrocharazorpitchaickapslicecornchipwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 24
    Good job Apple. Thank you for doing the right thing.
  • Reply 4 of 24
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?

    What happens if the user is underage?

    I don’t think the Siri “quality control” is dead, but Apple has more work to do, to make it transparent and the recordings anonymous.

    I wonder of Apple can quantify the benefits... Does this make Siri 10% better? 20%?  They need some way to get users to by in to the loss of privacy.

    I’ve had Siri disabled on all my devices from day 1.  Some people don’t care...
    bshank
  • Reply 5 of 24
    I hope this "whistleblower" (read, idiot) feels good about being the catalyst for that many people out of work.
    The whistleblower isn’t the problem, “jobs” isn’t a valid excuse for bad behavior.
    bigtdsjahbladeavon b7CloudTalkinllamaireland
  • Reply 6 of 24
    Good job Apple. Thank you for doing the right thing.
    Apple was doing the right thing.  These contractors had less than 30 seconds per recording snippet. There is no way some dude in Ireland could identify an individual in that context. According to privacy laws, anonymous data cannot violate someone’s privacy. As a practical matter who cares if a snippet of a Siri command is reviewed by a profession with appropriate deidentification controls are in place? Now the quality of Siri will suffer. 
    OnPartyBusinesswatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 24
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?

    What happens if the user is underage?

    I don’t think the Siri “quality control” is dead, but Apple has more work to do, to make it transparent and the recordings anonymous.

    I wonder of Apple can quantify the benefits... Does this make Siri 10% better? 20%?  They need some way to get users to by in to the loss of privacy.

    I’ve had Siri disabled on all my devices from day 1.  Some people don’t care...
    I’d opt in for an Apple QA program and opt out for Facebook. Who do I want to help perfect their products and who do I trust. 
    razorpitjahbladechaickacornchipwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 24
    peteopeteo Posts: 402member
    I really do not get this. Apple, why do you not give us a Button to click on to tell you when siri did not work? Why they heck go threw hours of audio to try an figure out of siri worked correctly for the user when you can just put a button so I can let know that siri did not do what I wanted it to?  Then you can ask me right then if I want to send this particular audio clip to you. 99% of people would be very happy to send you this instead of swearing and saying that siri sucks! Empower us to help you.  This is MADNESS.
    edited August 2019 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 24
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,473member
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?
    Apple will be doing exactly that in a future update. My guess is the default will be "on". 
    jony0
  • Reply 10 of 24
    mystigomystigo Posts: 158member
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?
    I would. I hate when Siri completely bollocks up its responses. Which it routinely does. If I had my way, I would be the only person they ever listen to so that the stupid thing would start to work better as they tailor it to me.
    jony0
  • Reply 11 of 24
    irelandireland Posts: 17,793member
    I hope this "whistleblower" (read, idiot) feels good about being the catalyst for that many people out of work.
    That’s unfair. He felt Apple wasn’t been transparent enough with its users about this. I follow Apple and had no clue this programme was taking place. Hidden away on some terms and conditions page isn’t good enough. Apple should have known from inception that such a critical programme should have been optional. Apple is to blame for those contractors losing their jobs. Only those needed for “grading” the customers who wanted this should have been employed—which I would imagine would still be 300 people, or more. The contractor who reported on this would have also lost their job—that’s called bravery.
    edited August 2019
  • Reply 12 of 24
    irelandireland Posts: 17,793member
    peteo said:
    I really do not get this. Apple, why do you not give us a Button to click on to tell you when siri did not work? Why they heck go threw hours of audio to try an figure out of siri worked correctly for the user when you can just put a button so I can let know that siri did not do what I wanted it to?  Then you can ask me right then if I want to send this particular audio clip to you. 99% of people would be very happy to send you this instead of swearing and saying that siri sucks! Empower us to help you.  This is MADNESS.
    Because that would make too much sense. There even no Siri section on Apple’s feedback page.
    cornchip
  • Reply 13 of 24
    irelandireland Posts: 17,793member
    Good job Apple. Thank you for doing the right thing.
    Apple was doing the right thing.  These contractors had less than 30 seconds per recording snippet. There is no way some dude in Ireland could identify an individual in that context. According to privacy laws, anonymous data cannot violate someone’s privacy. As a practical matter who cares if a snippet of a Siri command is reviewed by a profession with appropriate deidentification controls are in place? Now the quality of Siri will suffer. 
    No they were not.
  • Reply 14 of 24
    I hope this "whistleblower" (read, idiot) feels good about being the catalyst for that many people out of work.
    The whistleblower isn’t the problem, “jobs” isn’t a valid excuse for bad behavior.
    Bad behavior, like Apple doing what they said they would.  Um, OK.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 24
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?

    What happens if the user is underage?

    I don’t think the Siri “quality control” is dead, but Apple has more work to do, to make it transparent and the recordings anonymous.

    I wonder of Apple can quantify the benefits... Does this make Siri 10% better? 20%?  They need some way to get users to by in to the loss of privacy.

    I’ve had Siri disabled on all my devices from day 1.  Some people don’t care…
    I opt-in often. Amazon makes this easy with Alexa by allowing you to rate a recording and submit if it was wrong. Too bad they don't prevent all other recordings from being heard, but that's another issue. Apple already has an opt-in for text-to-speech for voicemails, which I assume uses the same Siri backend servers. On the bottom of each transcription it asks you if it was useful or not useful.

    All this could be resolved if Apple had a history of Siri responses with the voice recordings (like Amazon), but only kept on your device (unlike Amazon), and then let you choose the ones that were woefully wrong and if you'd like to submit them for review, but without any user, device or location identifiers included in the submission. Live reviewers simply listen to the recording you've submitted to then compare to the response to help better Siri. Frankly, it's surprising to me that Apple wasn't already doing this.
    watto_cobraFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 16 of 24
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,473member
    Soli said:
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?

    What happens if the user is underage?

    I don’t think the Siri “quality control” is dead, but Apple has more work to do, to make it transparent and the recordings anonymous.

    I wonder of Apple can quantify the benefits... Does this make Siri 10% better? 20%?  They need some way to get users to by in to the loss of privacy.

    I’ve had Siri disabled on all my devices from day 1.  Some people don’t care…
    I opt-in often. Amazon makes this easy with Alexa by allowing you to rate a recording and submit if it was wrong. Too bad they don't prevent all other recordings from being heard, but that's another issue. Apple already has an opt-in for text-to-speech for voicemails, which I assume uses the same Siri backend servers. On the bottom of each transcription it asks you if it was useful or not useful.

    All this could be resolved if Apple had a history of Siri responses with the voice recordings (like Amazon), but only kept on your device (unlike Amazon), and then let you choose the ones that were woefully wrong and if you'd like to submit them for review, but without any user, device or location identifiers included in the submission. Live reviewers simply listen to the recording you've submitted to then compare to the response to help better Siri. Frankly, it's surprising to me that Apple wasn't already doing this.
    Soli I think far too few users would actually take the time to review and submit recordings for it to be particularly useful for improving Siri in a reasonable time frame. It's like going to a restaurant and then failing to review it or make suggestions. Most people can't be bothered. 

    Apple (and Google and Amazon) would much prefer making the choice for you. That's the quickest way to improve the voice assistants. Relying on individual users to take an active part would be largely useless IMO. It's not like a rare bug report. This would have to be done near daily. 
  • Reply 17 of 24
    torstitorsti Posts: 10member
    I still don't understand why this is a problem with Siri. Of course they need to analyse recordings when something goes wrong with the "AI". That is the only way to fix it. People working with Siri recordings are under very strong confidentiality agreements. It's Apple. They know they can't talk about anything they might hear. That is part of privacy. A lot of people work with private information daily. Local supermarket clerk might know a lot about you.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 24
    Wait...… so there were  millions of hours of Siri conversations recorded and listened to by 300 quality assurance reps, and Siri is still the train wreck that it is today?  Seriously?! What were they actually doing with the manhours? Unbelievable.
  • Reply 19 of 24
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    gatorguy said:
    Soli said:
    If Apple added the ability for users to opt in and opt out... Would anyone opt in?

    What happens if the user is underage?

    I don’t think the Siri “quality control” is dead, but Apple has more work to do, to make it transparent and the recordings anonymous.

    I wonder of Apple can quantify the benefits... Does this make Siri 10% better? 20%?  They need some way to get users to by in to the loss of privacy.

    I’ve had Siri disabled on all my devices from day 1.  Some people don’t care…
    I opt-in often. Amazon makes this easy with Alexa by allowing you to rate a recording and submit if it was wrong. Too bad they don't prevent all other recordings from being heard, but that's another issue. Apple already has an opt-in for text-to-speech for voicemails, which I assume uses the same Siri backend servers. On the bottom of each transcription it asks you if it was useful or not useful.

    All this could be resolved if Apple had a history of Siri responses with the voice recordings (like Amazon), but only kept on your device (unlike Amazon), and then let you choose the ones that were woefully wrong and if you'd like to submit them for review, but without any user, device or location identifiers included in the submission. Live reviewers simply listen to the recording you've submitted to then compare to the response to help better Siri. Frankly, it's surprising to me that Apple wasn't already doing this.
    Soli I think far too few users would actually take the time to review and submit recordings for it to be particularly useful for improving Siri in a reasonable time frame. It's like going to a restaurant and then failing to review it or make suggestions. Most people can't be bothered. 

    Apple (and Google and Amazon) would much prefer making the choice for you. That's the quickest way to improve the voice assistants. Relying on individual users to take an active part would be largely useless IMO. It's not like a rare bug report. This would have to be done near daily. 
    Maybe, but this is what they do for voicemails and it’s unarguably much easier than doing a survey for a restaurant because it involves a simple click with what I assume it a confirmation click.

    Since people who have received bad service are the most likely to complain and because the most inaccurate Siri responses will need the most critical addressing, I think this would work out wonderfully. I don’t see a reason for me to inform Apple that their Siri response when I requested a 30 minute timer for my parking meter was excellent. 
    watto_cobraFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 20 of 24
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    torsti said:
    I still don't understand why this is a problem with Siri. Of course they need to analyse recordings when something goes wrong with the "AI". That is the only way to fix it. People working with Siri recordings are under very strong confidentiality agreements. It's Apple. They know they can't talk about anything they might hear. That is part of privacy. A lot of people work with private information daily. Local supermarket clerk might know a lot about you.
    How did we get this story?
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