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Apple Sharing Siri Data With Third Parties

Monday, November 9th, 2015

If you are used to whispering your every thought to Siri, the personal assistant software available with iPhones and iPads; then there is some bad news for you. As per the reports published by several media outlets, Apple has been sharing voice data captured through the Siri software with third parties. These revelations come only months after Apple’s competitor Samsung was forced to admit that it was capturing voice data of customers through select models of Smart TVs and was sending it to a third party server.

The issue came to light when Reddit user FallenMyst reported how she came across audio recordings captured through Siri and Saamsung Galaxy phones. She had just joined an organization called Walk N’ Talk Technologies and one of her job responsibilities was to listen to the voice data captured by large companies like Apple and Microsoft. After listening to the recordings, she was required to check the voice-to-text translations and suggest improvements for them. It is while listening to voice recordings of random people that she began to notice a pattern. She realized that she was not listening to any ordinary voice data, she was in fact hearing commands issued by Smartphone users to their mobile devices. She heard everything from kids asking innocent questions to Siri to grownups sharing their intimate fantasies with their phones. She also warned Reddit users that there is a very high chance that voice commands given by them are being recorded and passed on to third parties for analysis and interpretation.

It also didn’t take long for the online magazine Motherboard to discover that Walk N’Talk was actually being run by the data mining company CrowdFlower. The company specializes in collecting, labeling and cleaning of data via crowdsourcing and performs repetitive data analytics work for its customers.

While the above news may come as a shock to most Apple users, it has been known since at least 2013 that the company stores voice data captured through Siri for a period of two years. To ensure customer privacy, Apple assigns a random number to each user as well as the voice data captured from him. The company segregates the randomly assigned number with the voice data file after a period of six months but stores the data for analysis and product improvement for an additional period of 18 months.

After these revelations were made public, privacy advocates voiced their concern against the data sharing practices of companies like Apple. However, to its credit, Apple has clearly mentioned in iOS’ licensing document what it intends to do with the data captured through Siri. The agreement explicitly states that by using Siri and Dictation, users are permitting Apple and its subsidiaries to transmit, collect, maintain, process and use the information (including voice data) for the purpose of improving Siri, Dictation and the dictation functionality of other Apple products and services.

This episode clearly shows that even privacy friendly companies like Apple may indulge in practices which may compromise your personal data. Meanwhile, if you are a Siri user, you may want to rethink what kind of notes you are dictating to the software.

November 9, 2015

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