Apple, much like Microsoft and Google, has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that its contractors routinely listen in on private recordings made by Siri, in order to improve the voice assistant as a whole as well as dictation. Following the reveal, Apple suspended the human-reviewed program and, more recently, it announced that it has terminated the contracts of over 300 contractors that worked for its facility in Cork, Ireland.
That number does not include the rest of the contractors from other company facilities across Europe.
“As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize.” Apple wrote in the announcement. “As we previously announced, we halted the Siri grading program.”
Apple added in the announcement that only it’s in-house Apple employees will be listening and reviewing the audio clips but, as it is, the practice will still be paused until later in the fall, after the company will be rolling out a number of other changes to the way it conducts the program.
Some of these changes include, according to Apple, no longer retaining “audio recordings of Siri interactions. [Apple] will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve.”
The company will also allow the users to opt-in to help Siri improve and allow it to learn from their audio samples: “[w]e hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place.” Apple said. “Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time.”
However, it’s unclear how reviewing the recordings in-house will help improve user privacy: at the end of the day, people will still be listening in to Siri recordings. However, the ability to opt in our out of the program is an improvement.
But at the end of the day, terminating the contracts of its workers abruptly does send a rather depressing message to its former workforce: they are completely disposable. The workers were not protected against the layoffs and received no redundancy, just one week’s notice.
“They do what they want, and when they’re done with your project or they screw up (like what just happened), they tell your vendor company to let you go, which they do,” one of the former contractors told The Guardian. “It’s been coming at them for over a year. How could they not see this coming? Did they think about protecting their employees at all? Or just their reputation?”