Apple issued rare apology after report revealed employees regularly listened to private conversations
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

The hardest words to say are, "I'm sorry," but Apple (surprisingly) doesn't have a problem saying them after a whistleblower revealed that human strangers were listening to your private conversations. Apple commendably went a step further and actually fixed the issue that makes it feel like your phone is eavesdropping on you.

The unnamed whistleblower told The Guardian that Siri records conversations as a form of quality control called "grading." The purpose was to allow Apple to improve Siri, but it ended up feeling like one huge privacy violation.

It turns out, Apple's voice assistant could be triggered accidentally, even by muffled background noises or zippers. Once triggered, Siri made audio recordings, some of which included personal discussions about medical information, business deals, and even people having sex. The percentage of people yelling out, "Hey Siri!" while getting it on is probably very small.


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Apple ensured that these recordings wouldn't be linked to data that could identify you, but the recordings were linked to user data that showed location, app data, and contact details. So, yeah, they could actually identify you.

To make things worse, the recordings were listened to by third-party contractors, not Apple employees. "[T]here's a high turnover. It's not like people are being encouraged to have consideration for people's privacy, or even consider it. If there were someone with nefarious intentions, it wouldn't be hard to identify [people on the recordings]," the whistleblower told The Guardian.

Apple did the right thing and apologized for the practice. "We know that customers have been concerned by recent reports of people listening to audio Siri recordings as part of our Siri quality evaluation process. We realize we haven't been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize," Apple said in a post.

Not only that, they changed their policy to address the concerns revealed in The Guardian article. Now, Apple will no longer record conversations as a default. If you want to share your conversations with Apple so they can make improvements on Siri, you have to specifically opt in. Apple will also stop using third-party contractors to listen to the recordings. Quality control will be left to Apple employees who will review computer-generated transcripts instead of recordings. Any accidental recordings will be deleted.

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Technology has made our lives easier, but it's also ushered in a whole slew of privacy concerns. It's hard not to feel like your phone is your own personal telescreen from "1984," but worse because at least telescreens didn't have addictive Snapchat filters. Why should privacy be the trade-off just because we want the convenience of being able to say, "Hey Siri, what's the difference between a dolphin and a whale?" It's nice to have the peace of mind that we can make robots do our bidding without feeling like they're spying on us – at least when it comes to our iPhones.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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