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Screenshot from Apple.com

Apple on Wednesday apologized for how it handled the audio files when customers accessed its Siri assistant, and announced a series of changes aimed at better safeguarding customer privacy.

Why it matters: In recent weeks it has come to light that several of the major tech companies, including Apple, Google and Amazon, had been letting workers access a portion of virtual assistant conversations as part of their efforts to assess and improve quality.

Apple allowed contractors to listen to a small subset of customers' recordings, but put that program on hold earlier this month amid customer concerns.

The iPhone maker announced three significant changes on Wednesday.

  1. By default, it won't keep audio recordings of Siri interactions, but will use computer-generated transcripts to improve quality.
  2. Customers will be able to opt in to a program to share their audio files with Apple to help Siri get better. "We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place," Apple said. "Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time."
  3. When customers do opt in, Apple said only its employees — and not its contractors — will be allowed to listen to the audio files. Apple also said it will endeavor to delete recordings in which Siri was inadvertently triggered.

What they're saying: "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 — which we call grading," Apple said in a statement. "We heard their concerns, immediately suspended human grading of Siri requests and began a thorough review of our practices and policies. We've decided to make some changes to Siri as a result."

Go deeper: What Apple knows about you

Go deeper

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

Texas AG sues Biden administration over deportation freeze

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to members of the media in 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration in federal district court over its 100-day freeze on deporting unauthorized immigrants, and he's asking for a temporary restraining order.

Between the lines: The freeze went into effect Friday, temporarily halting most immigration enforcement in the U.S. In the lawsuit, Paxton claims the move "violates the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration and administrative law, and a contractual agreement between Texas" and the Department of Homeland Security.