Siri Whistleblower Goes Public to Protest Lack of Consequences for Apple

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 23, 2020

Last summer, an anonymous contractor revealed that Apple had contractors listening to private conversations, unknowingly recorded by their devices, as part of a "grading" system to improve Siri.

Now le Bonniec, who is based in Cork, Ireland, has sent an open letter to European privacy regulators, published in the early hours of Wednesday, calling on them to take action against the tech giant.

As reported via The Guardian, Le Bonniec, 25, worries how "Apple continues to keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues its massive collection of data".

After the report came out, Apple halted the program, brought the Siri grading program in-house and made it an opt-in feature for the users.

"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", writes Le Bonniec.

In December 2019, when the news broke of the program, the DPC put out a statement that referenced digital assistants from Google and Amazon as well as Apple and said it was "currently engaging with those organisations to establish the manner by which their voice assistant products comply with data protection requirements".

Apple said a year ago it would quit its default practice of retaining audio recordings of the requests users make to its Siri personal assistant and limit human review of what audio it does collect to its own employees rather than contractors. This information is then used to help Siri understand what users are saying in a better way.

And all of the activity was done without the user's consent. "These recordings were often taken outside of any activation of Siri, in the context of an actual intention from the user to activate it for a request".

He continued to say that he would listen to thousands of recordings every day and from a range of Apple devices, including iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads - any device that included Siri. "These processings were made without users being aware of it, and were gathered into datasets to correct the transcription of the recording made by the device", le Bonniec said in his letter.

However, le Bonniec noted that it was not just the owner of the device's conversations they were harvesting, but they sometimes included relatives, friends, children and colleagues.

He mentioned that the system recorded every conversation including names, addresses messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations.

Le Bonniec repeated many of his claims that he made in 2019, and says that Apple should be "urgently investigated" by data protection authorities and privacy watchdogs. "I heard people talking about their cancer, referring to dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, politics, school, relationships, or drugs with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever".

"As a result of our review, we realize we haven't been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize", the tech giant had said.

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