Siri—and the Humans Behind Her—Might Have Heard Some of Your Most Private Moments

SIphotography/iStock via Getty Images
SIphotography/iStock via Getty Images

An Apple contractor has come forward with alarming—yet not altogether surprising—information about just how much of your life Siri and her human referees may have heard. The anonymous whistleblower told The Guardian that “there have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters, and so on.”

Here’s how that happens. Apple sends a small percentage (less than 1 percent) of Siri activations to outside contractors, who then listen to the recordings to discern whether the activation was on purpose or by accident, whether or not the request was something Siri could fulfill, and whether or not the virtual assistant responded appropriately. This “grading” process is designed to help Apple developers with quality control and improvement, but according to The Guardian, the tech titan doesn’t actually disclose to consumers that humans might be listening to their interactions. Even some of Siri’s banter muddles the truth; for example, the system responds to the question “Are you always listening?” with “I only listen when you’re talking to me.”

An Apple representative told The Guardian that the recordings aren’t grouped with other recordings from the same user, and they’re not linked to your Apple ID. But The Guardian’s source explained that recordings can include addresses, names, and other personal information that would make it relatively simple to track down a user if you wanted to. And, since Apple uses independent contractors for this work, “there’s not much vetting of who works there, and the amount of data that we’re free to look through is quite broad … It’s not like people are being encouraged to have consideration for people’s privacy.”

The reason so many sensitive conversations are captured by Siri in the first place is because the virtual assistant is easily activated by accident. It starts recording whenever it registers the phrase “Hey Siri,” or anything that remotely resembles it, sometimes even just the sound of a zipper. The contractor emphasized that the Apple Watch and HomePod smart speaker are most often the culprits of accidental recordings.

The good news is that Apple now seems to understand how much this news has probably freaked you out. The Guardian reported today that Apple has suspended its grading program indefinitely while it conducts a review. “We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” the statement said. “As part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

[h/t The Guardian]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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What Movie Do You Want to Watch? This Website Analyzes Film Critic Reviews to Help You Choose

She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
Rowan Jordan/iStock via Getty Images

Much like sommeliers can detect subtle notes of who-knows-what in a sip of wine, film critics are fantastic at identifying influences and drawing parallels between movies. Cinetrii is a handy website that crowdsources all that movie knowledge to help you find your next favorite film.

Basically, you enter the name of a movie you enjoyed in the search bar, and the site will show you a node graph with film recommendations splintering off the search query. Click on one, and you’ll see a quote from a critic (or critics) who referenced the films together. This way, you get a list of recommendations based on different aspects of the movie, and you get to decide for yourself what you’d like to see more of.

If, for example, you were blown away by the special effects in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you might like Doctor Strange; according to Variety, it boasts “a staggering visual effects innovation, in which the building-bending seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception is taken to an extreme that would blow even M.C. Escher’s mind.” If what the Chicago Tribune calls an “elegant brain-bender” quality appealed to you more, The Matrix might be a perfect fit.

Films above your search query were released before the movie you typed in, while films below came out after it. The shorter the line, the more closely the films are related, as calculated by the website’s algorithm. And, as Lifehacker points out, that algorithm doesn’t give any special treatment to massive Hollywood blockbusters, so Cinetrii is an especially great way to find hidden gems. Because it shows you the critics' actual quotes, you’re not left to wonder why a certain film landed on the recommendations list—which can’t always be said for “Watch next” lists on streaming services.

You can explore Cinetrii here.

[h/t Lifehacker]