Siri may be one of the most popular digital assistants on the market. But according to the majority of users and critics, it’s far from the most useful, accurate or capable. And there isn’t a singular reason why Siri has lagged behind its competitors. But one of the more significant ones has to do with what is otherwise a boon for Apple users: privacy.
Digital assistants, by their very nature, are more useful when they know more about you. But when it comes to Siri, Apple has long placed privacy above intelligence.
Take Amazon Alexa, for comparison’s sake. Every time you invoke Alexa (or if Alexa just hears a phrase that might be her name), the device records a short snippet of audio. That audio clip is then sent to Amazon to improve a user’s personalizations by analyzing their requests, interests and habits.
As you may expect, firms like Google or Amazon link each voice request to a user’s specific account. That allows for better personalization, but it also means that your data can be used for targeted marketing purposes.
But Siri requests work in a fundamentally different way. Apple doesn’t track or store voice requests, and most personalization is done either on-device or through random identifiers that don’t link a user to their specific Siri request. Even the always-on “Hey Siri” feature is designed to protect privacy.
Essentially, that means that Siri isn’t going to learn a user’s habits nearly as quickly or as well as a digital assistant that does a bit more spying.
“Every time you press the buttons, (Siri) doesn’t have any conversational history,” John Burkey, a former Siri developer, told Vice last year. “… what it means is that it knows so little about you and what you’re saying is that it tends to get things wrong more.”
Apple has a long history of protecting its users’ data and frequently takes every opportunity to tout its pro-privacy stance. That commitment shows up in a variety of different ways, from anonymized Siri requests to the end-to-end encryption protecting iMessage and FaceTime.
That strategy likely isn’t the most conducive for a feature-rich digital assistant. But it does mean that Siri is likely the most private digital assistant on the market today.