Apple, like most tech companies, has profited in some fashion from the growing data collection industry. While some users have asked Apple not to collect such data or simply to keep it private, the company has supposedly only abided by such requests in limited regard. Some individuals have made public statements, outing the company’s practices. But this week, things have escalated even further.
In 2019, users learned through an anonymous whistleblower that Apple contractors regularly listen to the confidential recordings completed through Siri. These recordings are only part of a small portion of data recorded via Siri that ends up forwarded out to third party groups for review. While this data is reportedly used by Apple to improve Siri and its dictation, the reality is that that data is accessible to humans.
This is, in part, because they are using said information to attempt to update Siri’s functionality. However, this fact is not properly revealed to customers. And neither is the fact that much of the information is recorded accidentally. This often means that users are having their conversations and more recorded due to unexpected triggers. These recordings often include all sorts of private information, including drug deals, medical details, people having sex, and arguing. This data was further accompanied by location, contact and app data; things Apple claims are anonymized.
The anonymous source recently revealed himself to be Thomas le Bonniec. le Bonniec worked for Apple’s Cork offices, where he transcribed user requests in English and French. He later quit the job in the summer of 2019 due to ethical concerns.
He told The Guardian that Apple operates in an area that is clearly morally and legally grey, and that “they have been doing this for years on a massive scale. They should be called out in every possible way.”
According to le Bonniec, he spent hours every day, listening to hundreds of these recordings across a multitude of devices.
le Bonniec noted that almost every group of people ended up being recorded, young, old, employed and not, from all ethnicities, and even criminals. Said recordings were taken and analyzed by the third-party officials without the input or awareness of those being recorded.
The whistleblower claims that he’s going public due to Apple’s lack of action in changing these practices. When prodded about these operations, Apple told The Guardian that the data taken represents less than 1% of daily Siri activations, are only snippets of audio, and are fully anonymized.