Apple’s contractors in Cork, Ireland were expected to listen to a thousand audio clips of Siri recordings every shift, according to employees who had their contracts terminated this week after the company suspended the controversial Siri grading program last month.
According to several former contractors who were interviewed by The Irish Examiner, Apple hired about 300 people on fixed-term contracts as data analysts tasked with transcribing and grading of Siri audio recordings from customer’s interactions with the voice assistant. Grading was based on a bunch of different factors, including whether the activation of Siri was accidental or if the query was something the voice assistant could or couldn’t assist with.
Contractors regularly listened to 1,000+ Siri recordings each shift. One former employee said the recordings were about a few seconds long. Occasionally, they’d hear personal data or snippets of conversations when Siri was triggered accidentally. They also signed a non-disclosure agreement barring them from discussing what they did in detail.
According to another former employee who worked as a Siri data analyst, they were mostly listening to the audio recordings of Siri customer interactions based on Canadian, Australian or British English accents while a smaller team worked on clips with European languages.
The Irish Examiner has the story:
Siri recordings from a small number of Irish users were also listened to, the employee added. ‘I understood the reasons why the company was doing it but I could see why people would feel it was a breach of privacy because they weren’t telling people,’ the employees said. ‘I think the lack of consent was the issue.’
Staff employed as data analysts with Globetech, a Cork firm headquartered at Cork Airport Business Park, were advised this week that their employment with the company has been terminated.
He’s right about this being mostly the lack of consent issue. The article goes on to describe how Apple did the right thing by the contractors who are now out of their job.
‘My colleagues are mostly young people from Cork who now have no job,’ the employee, who did not wish to be named, told the Irish Examiner.
‘This also includes dozens of people who have come from Canada, Australia and mainland Europe.’
Correspondence sent to Globetech employees on Tuesday, seen by this newspaper, states that Apple informed the company last Saturday that it was ceasing all transcription and voice grading work: ‘Consequently, GlobeTech will no longer be engaged in the provision of these services to Apple.’
Employees were also advised that while the company is not contractually required to provide them with any notice of termination under the circumstances, it would be issuing a goodwill gesture. This goodwill gesture is understood to include one week’s pay and pay in lieu of any accrued but unused holiday entitlements.
An Apple spokesperson was quoted as saying the following:
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 is committed to customer privacy and made the decision to suspend Siri grading while we conduct a thorough review of our processes. 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.
The program became a controversial news topic mostly because Siri grading had been happening without Apple users’ knowledge, which prompted the company to shut down the initiative globally “while we conduct a thorough review”.
Apple will implement a toggle in a future iOS update to let customers decide whether or not they would like to help make Siri better by choosing to participate in the grading process. Following Apple’s example, other Silicon Valley giants also suspended their voice assistant grading programs, namely Microsoft, Google and Amazon (but not Facebook).
The whole ordeal has already earned Apple a class-action lawsuit that was recently filed in California, with plaintiffs accusing the iPhone maker of “unlawful and intentional recording of individuals’ confidential communications without their consent”.