Redditor Fallenmyst just started a job at Walk N'talk Technologies, where she listens to randomly sampled speech-to-text recordings from our mobile phones, correcting machine conversions.
If you use text-to-speech to send intimate messages, to discuss confidential material, or to say things that you don't want anyone to hear, be advised: everything you say to your phone is liable to being listened to later by bored strangers (and that goes double for your Samsung smart TV).
Motherboard's Kaleigh Rogers signed up for Crowdflower, the crowdsourcing service that got Fallenmyst her job, and described the process of listening in on the intimate machine-human interactions of strangers:
Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller told Wired that the company strips personal information from voice recordings before storing it for analysis it within Apple to improve the software. I reached out to both Apple and Samsung but did not hear back by the time this story was published. We will update this story if either company provides a response.
But while it may be within the legal limits of the companies to farm out these short, anonymous voice clips to strangers online, it’s certainly not a well-known practice, explained Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Many Americans would probably be shocked to learn that the contents of what they’re saying is even being transmitted to Apple or Google or Samsung. I think many people probably think that Siri’s only on their phone,” Soghoian told me.
But Soghoian stopped short of calling it an invasion of privacy, telling me that the company’s motivations seem to be to improve their voice recognition software, not to broadcast personal information about its customers. He added that if we want voice recognition software to get better, the companies creating it will need to collect data and, until the software improves, a human will have to listen to that data.
The problem arises when most people dictating at their phone don’t realize that another person might someday listen to it, Soghoian said.
Strangers on the Internet Are Listening to People's Phone Voice Commands [Kaleigh Rogers/Motherboard]
(Icon: A left human ear, David Benbennick, CC-BY-SA)