A former Apple contractor who worked for Siri's "grading" project, revealed that private conversations were overheard by employees working on improving Apple's intelligent assistant, adding that the company and other tech giants continue to ignore and violate "fundamental rights" with their "massive collection of data."
The whistleblower, Thomas le Bonniec who worked as a subcontractor for Apple in its Cork Offices now wants them to be investigated for it. As reported by The Guardian, he sent a letter to all European data protection regulators stating:
It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues its massive collection of data.
I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders.
The Siri controversy
The controversy dates back to July 2019, when reports revealed that Apple was paying contractors to review interactions with Siri and the employees were effectively eavesdropping on private conversations without the users' concerns.
It seemed strange that the tech giant would outsource the listening to Siri recordings to a third party and some of these recordings featured private customer information, including discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, criminal activity, and sexual encounters.
The 25-year-old Le Bonniec, who worked as a subcontractor for Apple, was assigned to transcribe user requests in English and French until he quit the job in the summer of 2019 due to ethical concerns with his work. He told The Guardian that the company operates on a "moral and legal grey area... and they have been doing this for years on a massive scale. They should be called out in every possible way."
Since the controversy emerged the last year, Apple said it had changed its policy and is hiring in-house employees to grade Siri recordings, offering customers the opportunity to opt-out having their voice recordings being used and asking stored recordings to be deleted from devices.
The letter to EU from Apple Whistleblower
In the letter to the EU, the whistleblower revealed that "the recordings were not limited to the users of Apple devices, but also involved relatives, children, friends, colleagues, and whoever could be recorded by the device."
He mentioned that the system recorded every conversation including names, addresses messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations. Le Bonniec also revealed that when he was working as a contractor for Apple he heard "people talking about their cancer, referring to dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, politics, school, relationships, or drugs with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever."
He wrote that such practices are at odds with Apple's 'privacy-driven' policies while mentioning that these activities should be urgently investigated by data protection authorities and privacy watchdogs. He added,"I want to bring this issue to your attention, and also offer my cooperation to provide any element substantiating these facts. Although this case has already gone public, Apple has not been subject to any kind of investigation to the best of my knowledge."
But this is part of a wider trend of stories about smart assistant recordings being sent to contracted workers. It should be mentioned that along with Apple, big tech leaders, such as Google and Amazon faced privacy-related queries in the past few years. In response, all these companies stated that they take necessary steps to protect their customer's privacy. But as per reports, earlier it was revealed that these companies have confirmed that they have teams, who listen to the recordings of people using their voice commands and interface.
In a letter from Amazon to US Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., it was mentioned that the company keeps recordings from its voice assistant Alexa indefinitely in response to questions about how Amazon uses and stores data.
If you think that deleting data would help, then it should be known that even after deleting recording manually, still, Amazon will be able to keep the transcriptions to improve the service's AI. Earlier, multiple states have filed lawsuits against Amazon, alleging that Alexa collects the conversations of children without their consent.