300 Apple contractors in Cork let go after Siri recordings scandal

28 Aug 2019

Apple's Hollyhill Cork campus. Still from ‘Why Cork loves Apple’. Image: CNN/YouTube

Hundreds of Cork-based contractors hired to grade Apple Siri recordings have been let go, after privacy concerns disrupted the programme.

After revelations last month that Apple contractors had listened to private conversations through accidental Siri recordings, the Cork-based workers involved were sent home and have been on paid leave since 2 August.

Now, according to The Guardian, 300 contractors employed by Cork firm GlobeTech to work on Apple’s ‘graders’ programme, which was created to better train the AI behind Siri, have been told their services are no longer required. They have reportedly been told there is no work for them because of “technical errors”.

According to one of those contractors, who wished to remain anonymous, the news was handed down last week, giving very little notice of the end of their employment.

‘How could they not see this coming?’

One former contractor told The Guardian that they were “relieved this information came out”. “Discussions around ethics in this job was a constant between workers, but we don’t know how to bring it up,” they said.

The contractor also criticised Apple and its hiring process for non-staff. “Apple, recruiting through vendor companies in Ireland, take absolutely no responsibility in the employment of contractors and their treatment in work.

“They do what they want, and when they’re done with your project or they screw up (like what just happened), they tell your vendor company to let you go, which they do … It’s been coming at them for over a year. How could they not see this coming? Did they think about protecting their employees at all? Or just their reputation?

“We’ve all been laid off after the scandal, with no protection against this. More than 300 at once just in Cork, with no redundancy, just one week’s notice.”

Apple has not yet responded to a request for comment.

It was originally expected that the launch of the next iOS update in October would have included an option for users to opt out of the grader programme. However, it now looks like the programme may not be resumed.

Updated, 10.15am, 29 August 2019: A previous version of this article said the affected workers were based at Apple’s Cork campus. The article was updated to clarify that they were contracted by GlobeTech to work on Apple’s project. 

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic