Apple listens to some Siri recordings to make it better

Not everything Siri hears is completely private, according to the Guardian.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read

Apple reportedly listens in on Siri to make sure she's getting things right.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

There's a lot Apple's done to improve the Siri voice assistant since its launch in 2011. The company's made it capable of doing more things, like calling an Uber or looking up a dictionary term. Apple's also making its voice sound more human. Still, it needs to check to make sure Siri's getting things right.

A team of contractors around the world reportedly listens to a random, small subset of the recordings Siri hears after people push its activation button or say "Hey Siri," according to a new report in the Guardian newspaper. The contractors then grade how Siri responded, identifying when it misunderstands what people say or activates at the wrong time.

The recordings don't have identifiable information, Apple told the paper, and they're analyzed in secure facilities. "All reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple's strict confidentiality requirements," the company added. Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Apple's attempts to improve Siri aren't much different from Amazon and Google , who similarly ask reviewers to analyze some recordings as well. Each of the companies say it's a key way to help improve their systems. 

"This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone," Amazon said in April.

"This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant," Google said earlier this month.

But Apple fashions its services and devices as bastions of privacy at a time when tech companies, including Facebook and Google, are under increased scrutiny for how they collect and distribute people's data. The Guardian's sources, though, said the recordings they heard included "private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on."

Watch this: Here's what Amazon revealed about Alexa privacy to a US senator

CNET's Corinne Reichert contributed to this report.