Apple and Google deactivate recording users' voice
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Apple said last week that the project was suspended from listening to anonymous recordings of user’s conversations or voice commands via Siri virtual assistant on its mobile devices. Apple's decision came after The Guardian (UK) quoted an Apple partner as saying Apple had silently recorded user commands through Siri virtual assistant and recordings was later listened again by humans, instead of being handled by devices. It is worth mentioning that sometimes Siri unknowingly activated and recorded private conversations of users that they did not know and these private contents were also listened by Apple’s partners.
"While we are conducting a thorough review, we have temporarily stopped recording Siri virtual assistants globally," an Apple spokesman said in the announcement. Apple also said users could refuse to participate in Apple's program in the upcoming software update.
In addition to Apple, Google also used its virtual assistant Google Assistant to record much sensitive information of users, including names, addresses or even details about their personal life, then allowed its partner companies to listen to the contents. Like Apple, after the information about Google Assistant recording the user's conversation contents that were listened again by humans instead of being processed by machines, Google was forced to stop the program from listening to recordings from Google Assistant. "Users can completely turn off the audio data collection feature on Google accounts or automatically delete these data after 3 months or 18 months," a Google spokesman said.
Both Google and Apple acknowledge recording the user's query contents via their virtual assistants and then listen and re-analyze these contents to help the company identify better at user’s pronunciation and provide better feedback. Apple and Google have confirmed that these recordings are completely anonymous, however, the fact that these data are listened and analyzed by people instead of automated machines makes many users feel anxious about their privacy.
In addition to Apple's Siri and Google's Google Assistant, Amazon's virtual assistant named Alexa has also been found to secretly record user’s conversations and analyze the contents by real people. That activity is said to seriously violate user’s privacy. Amazon representatives also said it would allow users to choose how the recordings are used to help develop Alexa virtual assistant. In the future, Amazon will be more transparent to users about issues related to its virtual assistant.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has not commented on whether its Cortana virtual assistant has recorded the user's query contents.
By: Kelly Jonas