The Siri Listening Controversy Is Back, And Apple Really Needs To Be Open And Transparent About This

You might recall that last year, it came to light that contractors hired by Apple were listening to Siri recordings and they were hearing all sorts of “interesting” things. Now this was nothing nefarious on the surface as this is done to improve the ability of Siri to work, but the fact that contractors were doing that was problematic. Apple apologized for that, which is rare for that company to do by the way, and stopped this program while making changes to their operating systems to give users more control over this. Though the fact that they may have been facing a significant fine might have had something to do with all of that.

Well, this controversy is back. According to The Guardian, we are learning that nothing has changed. The whistleblower has now gone public and has a lot to say:

In a letter announcing his decision, sent to all European data protection regulators, Thomas le Bonniec said: “It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.

“I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders.”

Le Bonniec, 25, worked as a subcontractor for Apple in its Cork offices, transcribing user requests in English and French, until he quit in the summer of 2019 due to ethical concerns with the work. “They do operate on a moral and legal grey area,” he told the Guardian at the time, “and they have been doing this for years on a massive scale. They should be called out in every possible way.”

Well, this is pretty damming. And it suggests that Apple, who claims that “Privacy is a fundamental human right” may be playing fast and loose on that front. This deserves further scrutiny. Oh wait. That’s actually happening:

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), Apple’s main regulator in the European Union, on Thursday said it was in contact with the company after a whistleblower called for action over a programme that listens to users’ recordings. 

The regulator acted after Thomas Le Bonniec, a former Apple contractor, wrote to European data protection regulators on May 20 to push for investigations into these practices. 

“The DPC engaged with Apple on this issue when it first arose last summer and Apple has since made some changes,” Graham Doyle, Deputy Commissioner at the Irish DPC, said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

“However, we have followed up again with Apple following the release of this public statement and await responses,” he said, in reference to the letter. “In addition, it should be noted that the European Data Protection Board is working on the production of guidance in the area of voice assistant technologies.” 

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

In the meantime if this bothers you in any way, here’s the list of changes that you can make to your iDevice to make this go away:

  • Go to Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvement > Improve Siri & Dictation and check it is off
  • Then go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri History and tap ‘Delete Siri & Dictation History’
  • To enable further restrictions, such as revoking location tracking and third-party app integration with Siri, read Apple’s Ask Siri, Dictation & Privacy page.

In the meantime, Apple truly needs to explain this. Right now they look shady as hell and for a company who claims that “Privacy is a fundamental human right” that’s not a good look. So how about it Apple? Will you come out and be open and transparent for a change about all of this?

Roughly 1.5 billion iDevice users are waiting.

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