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Screenshot: Apple.com

Apple is putting a worldwide hold on a program that had contractors listening to some Siri queries in an effort to grade the digital assistant on its responses. When the program returns, Apple says users will have the choice whether to participate.

Why it matters: Apple touts privacy as a key selling point, making the idea that someone might be listening to Siri queries unsettling, even if only a tiny fraction of queries were being monitored.

Driving the news: The issue came to light after a Guardian report last week that Apple contractors had been privy to all sorts of conversations, including couples having sex and people at doctors' appointments, as part of their work "grading" Siri's response handling.

  • "While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally," Apple said in a statement to Axios, saying it is "committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy."
  • Apple previously said less than 1% of queries were subject to such grading and that they were typically only a few seconds long. Also, it said the queries weren't tied to a particular Apple ID and that those listening were in secure facilities and subject to Apple's strict confidentiality rules.

Between the lines: Digital assistants are in their early days, so the tech giants want to find ways to both see how well they are doing and identify areas for improvement. However, digital assistants are often awakened accidentally, and as such, can end up being privy to sensitive conversations.

The bigger picture: Google is pausing a similar program for EU residents after a Germany data protection commissioner announced an inquiry into its practices.

Go deeper

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN on Thursday for their first joint interview since the election.

The big picture: In the hour-long segment, the twosome laid out plans for responding to the pandemic, jump-starting the economy and managing the transition of power, among other priorities.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
46 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus death rates rising across the country

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, Census Bureau; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Daily coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday, when roughly 2,800 people died from the virus.

The big picture: Caseloads and hospitalizations continue to rise, and deaths are spiking in states all across the country.

46 mins ago - World

Ratcliffe's long-term China play

Ratcliffe testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May. Photo: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe told Axios in an interview Thursday that "China and China alone is the only country that has the ability to compete with the U.S." — and hopes the intelligence community will adopt his view even under "the next administration."

Why it matters: Ratcliffe's comments suggested that he's trying to lock in the Trump era's harder line on China for the long term.

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