Contractors working for Apple were each tasked to listen to and “grade” a huge number of Siri audio recordings every shift, a report revealed.

A former Apple employee told the Irish Examiner that contractors working for the Cupertino tech giant each had to evaluate more than a thousand recordings made via Siri on a daily basis, before Apple suspended the practice last month.

“Fixed-term workers in Cork [Ireland] were hired to listen to and ‘grade’ Siri recordings,” the report said. “Contractors in Cork were expected to each listen to more than 1,000 recordings from Siri every shift.”

Each contractor was assigned to transcribe and grade every audio recording based on different factors, including if Siri was accidentally activated or if Siri was able to answer the user’s inquiry, or not.

The employee, who had just been terminated the past week, said that while voices had Canadian, Australian or U.K. accents, all details that could divulge’s the user’s identify were kept hidden so they would remain anonymous. Each recording was also very short with some of them spanning only a few seconds. Most of them also recorded users as they gave Siri commands.

The employee added that there was a small team that worked on grading recordings from users speaking using European languages. Some recordings also came from a small number of Irish users.

“I understood the reasons why the company was doing it but I could see why people would feel it was a breach of privacy because they weren’t telling people,” the employee said. “I think the lack of consent was the issue.”

Contractors who used to work for Apple said they were tasked to listen to and grade more than a thousand Siri audio recordings per shift. Reuters/Robert Galbraith


Another employee, who was also terminated recently, said they were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) forbidding them from talking about their work for the Cupertino tech company. They were also prohibited from telling anyone that they were working for Apple.

The Examiner reported that Apple’s more than 300 employees from Cork, all of them working on transcription and grading audio recordings, were terminated very recently. The number of employees terminated, as well as the number of recordings they were assigned to listen to and grade per shift, gives an idea as to the scale of what was happening, Forbes noted.

Apple is just one of the tech companies reported to have been listening in on users’ interactions with digital assistants. Other big companies like Microsoft, Google and Amazon are also reported to have similar issues.