Here’s your daily tech digest, by way of the DGiT Daily newsletter, for Monday, July 29, 2019!

Two significant Apple stories broke over the weekend. The first is almost identical to recent stories regarding Amazon Alexa (Bloomberg) and Google Assistant (Wired): Apple contractors are listening to unintended Siri conversations. Meanwhile, all three new iPhones have now been tipped for 5G — let’s look at that story first.

1. 2020 iPhones tipped for 5G support

  • Apple is expected to launch three new iPhones in 2020 in 6.7-inch, 6.1-inch, and 5.4-inch screen sizes.
  • It was originally suspected that the two more expensive iPhones would support 5G internet capabilities while the cheaper, 6.1-inch model would not.
  • However, Apple analyst and iPhone prophet Ming-Chi Kuo has now suggested all three phones would support 5G (MacRumors).
  • These models will likely support the sub-6GHz and faster mmWave spectrum, though Apple may launch the less-expensive 5G iPhone with support for the sub-6GHz spectrum only.
  • Apple is said to have more resources available to make all three iPhones 5G-compatible following its Intel smartphone modem chip business acquisition.

Why does it matter?

  • 5G technologies will pave the way for faster data transfer rates, lower latencies, and more connected devices, as well as a new wave of internet-of-things and AI-driven products.
  • If Apple can support 5G on all its 2020 iPhones — including a less-expensive model able to compete with cheaper 5G Android phones — it would certainly help its sales drive.
  • How much this really matters to consumers, though, depends largely on location.
  • Some carriers will have nationwide 5G coverage by the end of 2020 (T-Mobile has vowed this) but there may not be widescale coverage from every carrier until the 2021 iPhone release.
  • Smartphone marketers are soon going to start talking up all the 5G benefits their phone’s offer, but the question you should ask is when your area will receive extensive coverage.
  • If the answer is: “Not for ages, pal,” you can park your cheap 5G iPhone excitement for a little while.

The iPhone XS Max face-up on a white background.

2. Apple contractors listen to private Siri recordings

  • Apple employs human contractors to help improve its digital voice assistant, Siri, The Guardian has learned.
  • A whistleblower divulged details on what this work entails, stating that contractors are required to listen to user queries to grade Siri based on how it responds.
  • That’s the idea, but Apple products sometimes record voice data even when the “Hey, Siri” hot word isn’t used.
  • Why? Other words or sounds are occasionally mistaken for this activation phrase.
  • “The sound of a zip, Siri often hears as a trigger,” the contractor told The Guardian.
  • (You can imagine the kind of trouble that may cause.)
  • The result is that contractors are sometimes asked to grade completely accidental, completely private conversations.
  • These, according to the whistleblower, have included content like: criminal dealings, private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, and of course, sexual encounters.
  • Siri is found on Apple’s iPhones and its other connected products, but the contractor said the most frequent offenders for false triggers were the Apple Watch and the HomePod smart speaker.
  • Contractors are encouraged to report these accidental recordings as technical problems, but the whistleblower said they had concerns about the nature of the data contractors have access to.
  • “It wouldn’t be difficult to identify the person that you’re listening to,” the whistleblower said.

Apple Siri on a smartphone.

What is Apple’s response?

  • Like Google, Apple isn’t necessarily forthcoming about the human component of its services. Its privacy policy has no mention of human workers or contractors.
  • And its response to The Guardian regarding the use of human contractors was also very in keeping with Google.
  • Apple told the Guardian: “A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analyzed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.”
  • Apple also said less than one percent of daily Siri activations are used for grading, which are typically only a few seconds long, and that no specific names are attached to the recordings.
  • Thus, Apple is about as accountable as the other major U.S. tech firms that record our conversations and unlikely to change its practices to any meaningful extent.
  • It’s nonetheless a blow to Apple, a company which prides itself on its privacy and security practices.
  • Earlier this year, Apple boasted “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” on a billboard ad (9to5Mac).
  • Which is to say, what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone, unless you’re part of the voice grading sample sent to Siri contractors.
  • If the company is still receiving more than a billion Siri queries per week (Bloomberg), that sample could potentially feature one million messages per day.

3. T-Mobile-Sprint merger gets green light from the Justice Department (Reuters). The big four U.S. carriers are one step closer to becoming the big three as the Sprint/T-Mobile merger wins Department of Justice approval. But it’s not the end of the road.

4. Firefox browser could soon receive a Tor mode add-on that would significantly enhance privacy by connecting to the Tor network (Softpedia).

5. Xiaomi Mi 9T review: Probably the best mid-ranger right now (Android Authority). It’s inexpensive, it has a pop-up camera, it’s another smasher from Xiaomi.

6. Elon Musk says SpaceX could land on the moon in 2 years. A NASA executive says ‘we’ll partner with them, and we’ll get there faster.’ (Business Insider).

7. Fortnite World Cup has handed out $30 million in prizes, and cemented its spot in the culture (TechCrunch). TechCrunch rounds up the competition and the current state of the Esports world.

8. This super-curved smartphone screen leaves no space for buttons (Android Authority). This looks pretty hot.

9. Reliance Jio becomes India’s top telecom services provider (Bloomberg). This is quite a feat as the company only started its commercial operations three years ago. Its chairman is Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani, one of the richest people in the world.

10. Tired of Netflix? Here are 10 great alternatives (Android Authority).

11. Jammy’s digital guitar is a futuristic idea let down by today’s tech (Engadget). “The dream of an all-in-one electric guitar experience that fits in a carryon is still just that, a dream.”

12. Android can now be installed (unofficially) on the Nintendo Switch (Android Authority).

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