Apple lets users delete Siri recordings in new iPhone update after apologizing for handling of user data

Key Points
  • Apple uses short recordings of Siri commands to improve its software, but a report over the summer drew attention to how Apple handles recordings of user voice data.
  • A new iPhone software update allows users to opt out of Siri data-sharing with Apple.
  • Users can also delete all Siri recordings off Apple's servers.
Tim Cook presents at the Apple launch event in Cupertino, Calif on Sept. 10th, 2019.
Source: Apple

Apple released a software update for iPhones on Monday that includes several privacy improvements for Siri, its voice assistant, after a report over the summer drew attention to how Apple handles recordings of user voice data.

There are two major privacy-related changes to Siri in iOS 13.2.

When installing iOS 13.2, Apple asks if users want their voice commands to be stored and saved, which enables Apple to "grade" the voice recognition to improve the software. Previously, users were opted in by default.

In iOS 13.2, users can also now tell Apple to delete all the Siri voice recordings that it has stored on its servers in the Siri section of the Settings app.

"Apple may review a sample of stored audio. You can change this later in the settings for each device," according to a default pop-up when installing iOS 13.2.

"This data is not associated with your Apple ID, and will only be stored for a limited period," it continues, over a blue button that gives users an option to "Share Audio Recordings." A toggle to turn off sharing voice recordings with Apple is located in the Privacy section of the Settings app.

These privacy improvements come after The Guardian reported this summer that Apple had hired contractors to listen to a small percentage of Siri commands, some of which included personal details, drug deals and more, according to the report. (Apple says less than 0.2% of Siri requests are reviewed and that Siri uses a random identifier associated with your device instead of your phone number or Apple ID to keep track of Siri data.)

Apple responded in early August and said that a software update would enable people to choose whether they participate in the audio collection program Apple calls "grading" but in the meantime it would halt audio collection.

"As a result of our review, we realize we haven't been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize. As we previously announced, we halted the Siri grading program," Apple said in a statement posted to its website on Aug. 28.

Monday's software update gives users the ability to opt-in to Apple's resumed Siri grading program, which has resumed after being paused in August and September. 

Apple said in August that only Apple employees — not contractors — will listen to customer audio samples and that it will delete accidental recordings.

Amazon and Google, which have competing voice assistants, both use humans to improve reliability and accuracy as well. Google suspended a similar practice earlier this year.

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