August 2, 2019 / 7:50 AM / 2 months ago

Apple, Google pause reviewing audio recordings from voice assistants

(Reuters) - Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google have globally suspended reviewing recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants, as concerns over data privacy mount.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouette of mobile user is seen next to a screen projection of Apple logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Apple said on Friday it had paused the program called “grading”, where it reviewed anonymized recordings of conversations people had with its Siri voice assistant.

The decision comes after the Guardian last week reported that the company’s contractors tasked with reviewing the recordings regularly heard confidential information and private conversations.

Increased public and political scrutiny of data privacy practices have forced greater transparency from Silicon Valley companies, with Google pausing reviews of audio recordings from its Google assistant service for all purposes in all languages, after a leak of Dutch audio data.

Proposals being weighed by lawmakers in the United States and elsewhere would limit how internet companies track and distribute consumer information as voice assistants such as Siri and Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Alexa become a bigger part of people’s everyday lives.

“While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally,” an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that users will be able to opt out of the program in a future software update.

Contractors graded Siri’s answers to user queries as part of efforts to perform quality checks, the Guardian reported. They also looked at whether the response was triggered accidentally, the newspaper said.

Users can turn off storing audio data to their Google account completely, or choose to auto-delete data after every three months or 18 months, a Google spokeswoman told Reuters.

Amazon also said it allows users to opt-out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features.

The company will be update the information provided to customers to make the practices more clear, an Amazon spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of reviews from its Cortana voice assistant.

Reporting by Akshay Balan and Uday Sampath Kumar in Bengaluru; editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Sriraj Kalluvila

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