At least one Irish regulator just happens to fall into that camp. As reported on Thursday by Reuters, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is currently in contact with Apple over the quality control program related to Siri. The regulator got involved when a former Apple contractor requested assistance due to Apple’s practice of letting individuals listen to the recordings.
Thomas Le Bonniec is the contractor in question, and believes that Apple’s practices are in stark contrast to the European Union’s privacy laws. For its part, the DPC’s Deputy Commissioner said it already engaged with Apple when the quality control program was first brought to people’s attention last year:
The DPC engaged with Apple on this issue when it first arose last summer and Apple has since made some changes,” Graham Doyle, Deputy Commissioner at the Irish DPC, said in an emailed statement to Reuters
But with the latest request by the former contractor, the DPC decided to follow up with the company:
However, we have followed up again with Apple following the release of this public statement and await responses,” he said, in reference to the letter. “In addition, it should be noted that the European Data Protection Board is working on the production of guidance in the area of voice assistant technologies.
So, Apple is in hot water again, at least from one regulator. So let’s take a moment to look back at how it all went down last year.
In July of 2019, contractors working for Apple informed The Guardian that they were being tasked with listening to Siri audio recordings. In that report the contractors revealed that they were hearing potentially sensitive information that some customers might not want shared, especially not with random strangers. The data was technically anonymized, but, all things considered, that still did not go over well with customers.
Apple may have tried to make the information anonymous, but the company saw plenty of blowback for its practice of concealing the quality control program at all.
Unsurprisingly, Apple suspended that quality control program in August. The goal? To completely rethink how the program works and, most importantly, tackle it with a bit more transparency. In the same month, Apple ended the practice of using third-party contracting companies for the quality control program.
Apple released iOS 13.2 in October, and, with it, added an option for customers to opt-in to the audio quality control program. Apple’s stated goal is to improve the overall usefulness of Siri, as well as Dictation. The company at the same time made it possible for customers to easily delete all of their Siri and Dictation history.
Apple has since made changes to the program, in addition to removing third-party contractors from the equation altogether. The company’s program is now completely in-house, and it has limited the data that’s accessible by reviewers.