Apple offers Siri review opt-out for users

Measures announced on Wednesday to address concerns over how it holds and uses audio recordings

BERLIN - SEPTEMBER 19:  A man presents a iPhone  during a press conference on September 19, 2007 in Berlin, Germany. Apple and T-Mobile today announced that German telecom giant T-Mobile will be the exclusive German carrier of Apple's anticipated iPhone when it makes its debut in Germany on November 9.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
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Apple users will be able to opt out of the company reviewing their conversations with voice assistant Siri under measures announced on Wednesday to address concerns over how it holds and uses audio recordings.

Apple said it would also bring all work on "grading" - which involves people listening to Siri recordings as part of quality control - to formal Apple employees rather than external contractors, according to Reuters.

The US firm has promoted its privacy practices in an effort to distance itself from its rivals and has taken steps since Siri's introduction in 2011 to limit data collection. Audio recordings are deleted after a set period of time, users were identified by a random number, and data such as a user's unread messages or calendar appointments were not sent to Apple's servers.

The tech giant said that it will quit keeping audio for human review and instead let users opt in to having their audio reviewed if they choose. The company said it will still use computer-generated transcripts to improve Siri. The pause on the program will remain in place until the changes are carried out but it did not give a date.

The company this month suspended its reviewing of recordings after reports that contractors reviewing the audio records regularly heard confidential information and private conversations.

Siri allows users to work their iPhone without using their hands, and can send messages, make calls and open multiple applications via voice commands.

Consumers have become accustomed to calling out names for popular voice assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, among others.

In an effort to perform quality checks and improve the voice assistant's responses, contractors graded Siri's answers to user queries, The Guardian reported. They also looked at whether the response was triggered accidentally, without a deliberate query from the user, the newspaper said.

The decision to let users opt out comes after the world’s most influential consumer electronics company shed $44 billion (Dh161.59bn) of market value on Friday after a pair of pronouncements from Beijing and Washington cast a spotlight on its vast Chinese production base, from which almost all of the world’s iPhones are made.

US President Donald Trump at the weekend “ordered” American companies to immediately start looking for alternatives to manufacturing in China, which is something Apple is thoroughly unprepared for, said analyst Daniel Ives of Wedbush Securities.

“In a best-case scenario,” said Mr Ives, Apple “would be able to move away 5 to 7 per cent of iPhone production out of China” over the course of 18 months, Bloomberg reported. The company would require three years to move 20 per cent out, he said, which is still less than the 25 per cent of iPhone production that Apple needs for its domestic US market. American tariffs on goods from China would therefore directly impact Apple’s biggest moneymaker.

Mr Ives calls Mr Trump’s latest comments on China “a gut punch to Cupertino” in the title of his report.

Apple’s main assembly partner, Foxconn, said that it has the capacity to build all of the Cupertino company’s US-bound iPhones outside of China, but to do so would require a great deal of time and money. Apple’s stock price took two big hits on Friday after the latest tariffs announcements.