Saturday 21 September 2019

Apple may re-hire contractors out of jobs because of decision to suspend listening to Siri

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Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Apple says that it may hire contractors who find themselves out of a job because of the company’s decision to suspend its practice of outsourcing the process of ‘grading’ audio recordings from Siri.

The tech giant, which employs 6,000 people at its facilities in Cork, says that it will give "priority" to the contractors when it resumes the ‘grading’ process in-house in Cork with extra protections and conditions to safeguard personal privacy.

"Our headquarters in Cork will be a primary site for our opt-in Siri grading program which will restart this autumn," a spokesman said.

"As we build our team, our priority will be to consider hiring contractors who were doing this work before we suspended the program. We are taking this process very seriously to ensure we serve the best interests of our partners, employees and customers. Apple has been operating in Ireland for 40 years and we are deeply committed to developing the economy and creating jobs."

The news may give up to 300 contractors at the Cork-based firm Globetech hope that their employment hiatus could be short.

Earlier this week, Apple apologised for letting outside contractors listen to Siri audio recordings from iPhones and iPads.

The company suspended the practice, known as ‘grading’, and promised only to reinstate it as an opt-in feature with no outside firms given access to the recordings.

Globetech was one of the external ‘contractor’ firms affected by the decision.

The Cork firm’s chief executive, Kevin Kelly, described the suspension as "a difficult situation for everyone involved".

"The nature of our business means that the majority of our employee contracts are fixed purpose and are linked to client requirements and project lifecycles.

"We are committed to supporting our employees through potential redeployment opportunities, where possible."

Apple is just the latest big tech firm to encounter controversy over listening to customer recordings without full transparency of how and what was being done.

In recent months, Amazon, Google and Facebook have all received public censure for having workers listen in to recordings from their voice recognition technology.

The tech firms say that they need to do this to make sure that the software is accurately understanding our voice commands.

But reports have emerged that some of the recordings include intensely personal moments of intimacy or conflict.

"As a result of our review, we realise we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologise," said Apple in a statement last week.

The company, which is due to launch its iPhone 11 smartphone on September 10th, says that it will resume the testing later this Autumn, but only by its own staff.

It also says that it will only be an opt-in system and that it will no longer "retain" audio recordings of Siri interactions.

"Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri," the company said.

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