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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

Updated 5 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
6 hours ago - Health

The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

A group of high-profile scientists published a letter calling for renewed investigation into the origins of COVID-19 — including the theory that it spilled out of a virology lab.

Why it matters: The possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a Chinese lab and accidentally escaped — rather than emerging naturally from an animal — was initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory. But the letter shows a potential lab leak is increasingly being taken seriously.

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