Apple was a little behind on Siri privacy, now it’s way ahead


Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

It’s been a good 24 hours for defaults. Motion smoothing might stop being the default on TVs. Fitbit has a real shot at making the de-facto default smartwatch for Android users, who desperately need one. And the best default of all: the default opt-out on Siri recordings.

Here’s our story on it: Apple apologizes for Siri audio recordings, announces privacy changes going forward.

A key part of this story is that Apple straight-up apologized. That apology is totally warranted, and I’d like to briefly explain why.

If you haven’t been following all the drama surrounding smart assistants saving your voice on their servers so humans could listen, I wrote a piece about it earlier this month. The main way Apple was (and is) better is it more aggressively anonymizes user data from Siri (but there’s a limit to how anonymous a recording of your voice can be. Apple’s slightly updated policies can be found here and they’re worth a read.

However, when it came to actually managing the data that Apple was storing, Siri was actually worse at privacy settings than Amazon or Google. You couldn’t use Siri without having your voice saved and potentially listened to by a human, for one thing. For another, Apple did not (and will not) offer a portal where you can review and delete all of your voice recordings and transcripts.

The only way to delete that data was to simply turn off Siri and Voice Dictation. And that was the biggest problem: turning off Siri was way too hard. There was no single button for it, you had to just know that a few vaguely related settings did it. There was no easy opt-out. Google and Amazon weren’t angels, but their past history with privacy scandals at least set them up to know what to do when their respective assistant listening scandals hit.

Apple had to scramble. It shut down all human review and then hunkered down to figure out a fix. Then fix the company has come up with puts it where you’d expect: ahead of everybody else.

There will now be a default opt-out for Siri recordings and a promise that no third-party contractors will hear your voice. There will also be a clear, simple button you can toggle to opt in if you want to be helpful. Apple may not have had the experience of dealing with privacy scandals necessary to give users clearer controls over the data it was storing right away, but it’s also a fast learner.

Amazon and Google should follow Apple’s lead on the default opt-out. It’s not just fun to say, it’s a best privacy practice.

Question Alexa Siri Google Assistant
Question Alexa Siri Google Assistant
Are my voice recordings stored by default Yes No Yes
Can I use it without having my recordings stored? No Yes Yes
Can I delete these recordings? Yes, including with voice commands Yes, but it's not easy Yes
Are recordings associated with my account? Yes No Yes
*Apple’s settings will apply this Fall. Until then, it is not storing voice recordings at all.

Here are some other big tech stories of the day

TV manufacturers unite to tackle the scourge of motion smoothing

I love this. I am a little annoyed that “we won’t screw up the video by default” is now going to become a marketing feature instead of the default, but whatever. Next step: getting directors to rally together to force TV makers to stop tracking what we watch and selling that data. In the meantime, here’s Jon Porter explaining what Filmmaker mode does:

The UHD Alliance, a collection of companies who work together to define display standards, has announced Filmmaker Mode, a new TV setting that’s designed to show films as they were originally mastered, with as little post-processing as possible. Although the mode will affect multiple settings like frame rate, aspect ratio, overscanning, and noise reduction, its most important element is that it turns off motion smoothing.

Sony announces super fast A6600 and A6100 mirrorless cameras

I know they’re completely different classes of camera, but I have to think there are some vloggers out there who impulse-purchased the RX100 VII because it has a mic jack and eye-tracking autofocus and are kicking themselves a little bit right now. Cameron Faulkner has the details:

It also has Real-Time AF tracking and the new Real-Time Eye AF tracking that originally debuted in the A6400, which we reviewed earlier this year. Sony has added a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a first for the company’s alpha series of cameras.

Fossil ‘Gen 5’ smartwatch review: best of a Wear OS situation

I reviewed, and genuinely like, the Fossil Carlyle and would happily wear it every day. But that doesn’t mean I think you should buy it. It’s a cleaner, less-annoying software experience than a Galaxy Watch for non-Samsung owners, but $295 for Wear OS is not a good investment. Qualcomm’s 3100 processor has not been the smartwatch savior we were hoping for. I honestly have no idea where Google goes from here.

Fitbit announces the new Versa 2 smartwatch, and the affordable Aria Air smart scale

It figures: mere hours after I posted a review of the Fossil Gen 5 Wear OS watch, Fitbit announces the Versa 2. It still doesn’t look great to me, but hopefully it’s nicer in person than it is in pictures. I’m also hoping that Fitbit put a little more work into the software and the more traditional “smartwatch stuff,” on top of its fitness features. Android users have really stark choices when it comes to smartwatches. It’s a market that’s just sitting there, waiting to be taken.

At this point Google should just release this thing: Pixel 4 allegedly appears in photos leaked on Telegram

Apple Music for Android beta brings Chromecast support - 9to5Google

Think about this for a minute: Apple is trying way harder to make a good music app on Android than Google is right now.