Irish data protection body questioning Apple over Siri grading practices

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A day after the Siri whistleblower lamented that there were no investigations into Apple's Siri quality monitoring, The Irish Data Protection Commission said it is again questioning Apple over the grading practices.

News of the DPC's contact with Apple comes hours after Thomas Le Bonniec wrote to European data regulators and outed himself as the whistleblower that first revealed human contractors were listening to and grading Siri requests in July 2019.

In a statement to Reuters, the DPC said it is "in contact" with the Cupertino tech giant. The regulator acted after Le Bonniec's letter on May 20, which pushed for further investigations into Apple's human-based Siri practices.

Irish DPC Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle said that the regulatory body "engaged with Apple on this issue when it first arose last summer," adding that Apple "has since made some changes."

"However, we have followed up again with Apple following the release of this public statement and await responses," Doyle said.

The deputy commissioner added that the European Data Protection Board is currently working on producing guidance specifically in the area of voice assistant technology.

In the May 20 letter, Le Bonniec wrote that "it is worrying that Apple ... keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data." He added that Apple should be "urgently investigated."

The former Apple contractor first took issue with the company's Siri policies in the summer of 2019, revealing to The Guardian that humans were listening to a select number of anonymized Siri recordings. While Apple didn't make that fact explicitly clear, it has always been upfront about some Siri recordings being manually reviewed.

Despite the fact that Siri queries are not linkable to individual users, the whistleblower mainly took issue with the fact that some recordings allegedly contained highly sensitive and personal conversations or situations.

In response to the complaint and ensuing controversy, Apple reviewed its Siri practices and implemented several changes, including making Siri optimization an opt-in policy and not retaining audio recordings of interactions with the digital assistant.

 

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