Apple and Google have suspended human reviews of voice recordings made by Siri and Google Assistant, their respective voice control programs, amid consumer concerns over privacy. Amazon, which operates the Alexa voice assistant, has not.
Over the past month, reports have detailed how contractors for tech giants have accessed recordings most people assumed were private, only heard by artificial intelligence algorithms. Apple contractors told the Guardian in July that they had often overheard people having sex, making drug deals, or describing medical symptoms.
Bloomberg reported in April that Romanian Amazon contractors listened to Alexa’s recordings and were able to view the associated users’ locations. In July, reports surfaced that a Google contractor leaked a thousand voice recordings from Google Assistant to a Belgian news outlet, which was able to identify individuals from the recordings and locations. Tech companies employ people to rate the quality of the responses the voice assistants return to users.
Both companies have suspended human reviews worldwide, they said, but they didn’t say for how long or when human reviews would resume. German authorities mandated that Google halt human reviews for at least three months, though a Google spokesperson said the company had taken action before the German inquiry began.
It’s possible to change the settings on your Google account so that the company stores none of your audio recordings or automatically deletes them after a given period of time.
An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement, “For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt-out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features.” The spokesperson added that the number of Alexa recordings reviewed by humans was “a fraction of one percent.”
Samsung, which owns the Bixby assistant, and Microsoft, which owns Cortana, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on human reviews.