back to article Hey Siri, are you still recording people's conversations despite promising not to do so nine months ago?

Apple may still be recording and transcribing conversations captured by Siri on its phones, despite promising to put an end to the practice nine months ago, claims a former Apple contractor who was hired to listen into customer conversations. In a letter [PDF] sent to data protection authorities in Europe, Thomas Le Bonniec …

  1. IceC0ld

    I am no longer angry / upset / discouraged whenever I see another of the 'big' software companies getting caught out AGAIN, they all just seem to say sorry, won't happen again, and off they go, still continuing to do whatever nefarious deed it was they were called out for

    so, no longer upset, just disappointed that those companies that COULD lead the way to a bright new future - no, really, stop giggling at the back ffs -

    have deliberately chosen to follow the path of screwing Joe Blo public out of EVERYTHING :o(

    maybe one day there will be notification of one of these hyper billionaires actually getting off their arse, and putting their funds to a proper. decent use, they say WORLD poverty could be controlled / constrained even eradicated with just a few hundred billion, and I AM aware that the likes of MR Gates is in process of trying to help with the eradication of several nasty worldwide diseases, and has poured literally billions into various projects across the globe, so maybe we give him a bonus point for that, but the remainder seem unable to figure out that the only way that they have ANY future, is if WE have a future too.

    I look forward to that world appearing, but I am not going to hold my breath

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      This is why I don't use Apple, my Amazon tablet (actually all my tablets) has had the microphone physically disabled and I use a no root firewall so I can block these sorts of things. A friend of mine uses Siri for tons of things and another has an Amazon Echo. They see them as harmless whereas I see them as an electronic spy.

      Supposedly the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office banned staff from Echo device ownership because of security concerns.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        That wouldn't surprise me. Unfortunately, it's not just Apple doing this. Amazon and Google were both caught keeping databases of this stuff and they're almost certainly still doing it. Microsoft probably doesn't have a database because who uses Cortana, but it's probably worth checking anyway. Only Apple, to my knowledge, has any level of disclosure about capturing and sending out the data with an opt out switch that, well I don't know whether it does anything, but it's there. People are going to have to learn that data is stored and analyzed and monetized and published and leaked and they should probably care. So far, they don't seem to have figured that out.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          "That wouldn't surprise me. Unfortunately, it's not just Apple doing this. Amazon and Google were both caught keeping databases of this stuff and they're almost certainly still doing it."

          The main difference is that Amazon and Google are pretty open about the fact that they're constantly spying on everything and selling all the data to anyone who offers to pay enough. Perhaps not everyone realises the full extent of what they do, but by this point there's really no excuse for not understanding what you're letting yourself in for if you buy into their ecosystems.

          Apple, on the other hand, is usually seen as the much more privacy-focussed alternative, which doesn't do all the advertising crap and is therefore much less intrusive about personal data. The choice is always seen as the more open systems which include your personal stuff in that openness, or the walled garden that also keeps your personal stuff walled off. So to see Apple doing exactly the same as everyone else is much more surprising and disappointing.

          As for Microsoft, no-one uses Cortana on purpose, but it's essentially impossible to actually disable it so you can be sure there's plenty of spying going on there too. Just look at the mess of their "telemetry" nonsense, and ask yourself if they'd behave any differently with their voice recording.

          1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

            "no-one uses Cortana on purpose"

            I can confirm I only use it to swear at said machine for failing to boot on the network for an image, thankfully recent Windows 10 installs from HP no longer go straight to the PLEASE USE CORTANA from the first time startup.

      2. IGotOut Silver badge

        Of course, everything you are doing on that tablet is being sent back to Amazon. So you stopped them listening, but everything else is going back home.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Of course, everything you are doing on that tablet is being sent back to Amazon.

          I expect that a bit of chewing gum in the microphone's listening port will fix that. At least for this year's technology.

          1. JimboSmith Silver badge

            Chewing gum is so 80s spy thriller stuff. I physically disabled the damn thing using a pin through the microphone hole. Now if you try and use the microphone it doesn't make any noise at all. If I need a microphone for any reason I use a headset.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Of course, everything you are doing on that tablet is being sent back to Amazon. So you stopped them listening, but everything else is going back home.

          That's what the no root firewall protects against. There are very few apps that are allowed to connect to the internet and even then I restrict those apps to accessing certain IP addresses only. Although having said that I mostly just watch Prime videos on it. I've never opened their appstore as I sideloaded Google Play, Services etc. I couldn't see the point of their appstore for me when the Google one works fine.

      3. rtfazeberdee

        You'll have to explain to your friends its still recording what they say even though they haven't invoked Siri - maybe that subtlety hasn't filtered through to them

    2. jospanner

      Capitalism prioritises profits over all else.

      This is what you want, right?

      1. vtcodger Silver badge

        What **I** want seems to be a matter of no interest at all to either Capitalists of Socialists.

        Wait, I happen to have a not yet completed Absentee Ballot here. Let me check. Nope. No Nihilists or Anarchists or anything like that running for office around here this year.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @IceC0ld - Actually

      those companies ARE leading the way to a bright new future - their future.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't know if Apple is still doing this or he's reporting what they did back in 2019

    But this analytics is OPT IN. You have to choose the "improve siri & dictation" then it will send some snippets of what you say for review. So I don't see how this can break any law in Europe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't know if Apple is still doing this or he's reporting what they did back in 2019

      Correct. I disable that functionality by default because I don't like it, and the latest iOS update had Siri off. I'm about to check if that's still the case with iOS 13.5 that has just shown up.

      As an aside, I'm not exactly happy with that Covid19 API either until I know what protocol it's based on (there are a few privacy protecting ones out there, like DP-3T) but I understand some countries are going to make this mandatory in their belief that it will help. Unfortunately, that leaves me with no choice as I travel for work (some things just cannot done by wire), but even then Apple has a slightly better track record and less income derived from privacy breaches than Google..

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: I don't know if Apple is still doing this or he's reporting what they did back in 2019

      It depends on the wording. Does it say it's going to take conversations even when not in use?

      Think it as a sign in a bank saying they will video for security, but then follow you down the street and into your house.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't know if Apple is still doing this or he's reporting what they did back in 2019

        It remains to be proven that it does that. All you have is the word of a single former contractor, who has no way of knowing what happened to activate it.

        I could easily see a phone being rolled over on during sex, or people trying to record themselves having sex accidentally activating it. It can be done with the side button if you have it set up that way, so it doesn't require someone yelling "Hey Siri" during a moment of passion.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Apple promised a “thorough review of our practices and policies”

    And I am absolutely certain that Apple did a thorough review as promised.

    Except that Apple never promised to change anything. Apple just promised to review the situation.

    People are going to have to learn to read what is said, and act accordingly. Words are words, and actions speak volumes more, but you cannot expect one of the richest companies in the world to have the same interpretation of "review" as you do.

    If you have any questions, ask yourself why you are not managing billions in the bank, and Apple is.

  4. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Why don't people care?

    Not the first company, won't be the last.

    They all promise to review their practices and then the story goes away because most people don't care

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Why don't people care?

      I care. I'm going to start using Home Assistant (home-assistant.io) in my new house.

      The big problem is it's most certainly not plug-n-play, and is probably far beyond the ability of most people to configure.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: probably far beyond the ability of most people to configure

        but has already been hacked to death.... ???

        Lets face it people... any device that needs and internet connection to work is another attack vector on your digital (and real) life. Millions of people are seduced by the Advertising (no surprise there) into buying a load of tat/rubbish/crap each and every day.

        I do know one thing and that none of this IOT shite is coming into my house. I have an iPhone but Siri is disabled along with BT and access to services by the Apps that I have installed is monitored and most of it is kept disabled. I've even disabled Car-Play because it needs Siri to work properly.

        1. Cave-Homme

          Re: probably far beyond the ability of most people to configure

          If you disable BT on iOS it will simply turn back on silently some 24 hours later, as far as i know.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: probably far beyond the ability of most people to configure

            AFAIK, if you disable it in Settings it'll stay off.

            If you disable it from the control panel it'll reset at the end of the day - the idea is that it allows you to temporarily change settings without having to remember to re-enable them at a later stage.

          2. Maelstorm Bronze badge

            Re: probably far beyond the ability of most people to configure

            I've disabled BT on my mom's iPhone and it has yet to turn itself back on. Then again, BT is disabled on all devices.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Privacy

    Everyone talks about it but few of us actually have any idea of what privacy is legally.

    I just had a quick look online, in the States the constitution defines privacy quite narrowly and allows the state a lot of leeway on a nmber of grounds, the FTC is the enforcing agency so it is they who should be taken to task in the US for not overseeing the opt-in, opt-out provisions on the likes of Siri more strictly.

    In Europe the protections and definitions of privacy are better defined so that in theory, even government has less freedom to interfere with individual privacy, the problem with GDPR is not much seems to happen unless enough people complain and not enough people complain because the complaints system isn't very clear, at least not to me.

    Apple and others exploit the holes in the system and have enough legal and financial weight that they can for the most part ignore the legal protections and when they are brought to task they usually say sorry a lot, wave a couple of million in cash at the problem and then carry on.

    Only extreme public opinion such as nobody buying their goods will make any changes so I'm not holding my breath.

    Everything I own is as locked down as I can make it, which is probably not enough but in that case they have a revord of my opinions of them.

  6. Flywheel Silver badge
    WTF?

    Disabling Siri

    I heard people talking about... with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever

    I'm firmly in the tinfoil hat brigade as regards digital snoopers like Siri and the first thing I do after installing an app on the iPad is disable any learning/use settings for Siri.

    So am I right in saying that even if I disable Siri, it's still sending data to Apple?

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: Disabling Siri

      Don't know about Apple but I disabled Alexa on my Amazon Fire tablet. Despite this being switched off it appears in the list of running apps along with the Alexa Cards app. These try to access the internet all the time when the WiFi is on but are blocked by the firewall. Also don't bother shutting them down as they just reload seconds later.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Disabling Siri

        "reload seconds later"

        So malware then!

        Similar to disabling the mike function on androids, if Gargle assistant is still on so is the mike as far as I know.

        I have a constant message on my phone telling me there is a Gargle play error and to follow up he guidelines to correct it; the first step is enabling the mike.

        Fuck'em!

  7. gnasher729 Silver badge

    If you don't like it as a user you can:

    1. Don't turn Siri On.

    2. Don't allow Siri to let humans listen. You are asked about that when you turn Siri on.

    3. Don't say "Hey Siri" when you want to say things nobody should hear. Siri _cannot_ listen unless you say "Hey Siri" first.

    4. Especially don't say "Hey Siri" when you are going to have sex.

    At some point, people say things that Siri doesn't understand, and at that point you'd want a human to hear it, understand it, and tell Siri what it means.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Go back and read it again...

      On your point 3... did the article mention that people said 'Hey Siri' ? No, no it doesn't.

      On the flipside, how do you think Siri knows you've said 'Hey Siri' ? It's got to have a live mic to be able to hear the command word. What's happening is this live mic is actively recording and feeding back whatever the mic captures that is not explicitly 'Hey Siri'.

      Now, you might be right in that Siri cannot listen without the command word, but that doesn't mean the device containing Siri cannot listen either. It HAS to listen to be able to trigger Siri. One cannot happen without the other.

      Now, go back and think more critically over what you've said.

      1. batfink Silver badge

        Re: Go back and read it again...

        The article explicitly states that the recording is done without any activation. So, no "Hey Siri". Please go back and read again.

        1. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Go back and read it again...

          "The article explicitly states that the recording is done without any activation. So, no "Hey Siri". Please go back and read again."

          No, what the article states is that a contractor, who has no clue how a recording was started, thinks there is no activation.

          Take your phone in your hand. Think of something you want to ask while your kids are playing. Result: You say "Hey Siri, kids don't pull the bloody cat by its tail". Whistleblower hears "Kids don't pull the bloody cat by its tail" and thinks there was no activation. Now take into account that nothing will be recorded where Siri could just answer the request, and that is exactly the kind of sentence that _will_ be recorded in case some human can make sense from it.

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Go back and read it again...

        "On the flipside, how do you think Siri knows you've said 'Hey Siri' ? It's got to have a live mic to be able to hear the command word. What's happening is this live mic is actively recording and feeding back whatever the mic captures that is not explicitly 'Hey Siri'."

        There's the things that you think have to be so that aren't...

        Since the iPhone 6s, there's a very low power chip in every iPhone that does nothing but detect the phrase "Hey Siri". It doesn't detect anything else. Any other noise goes whoosh past it. That's why Siri can work when your phone is active without eating battery live. Nothing is recorded or fed back anywhere.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Go back and read it again...

          gnasher729,

          Please could you give some reference to documentation etc that verifies your assertion that there is a specific chip that detects "Hey Siri" ?

          Does this mean that all iPhone users have to use "Hey Siri" even if it has no meaning in their own language ?

          Not doubting, just 1st time I have heard this !!!

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: Go back and read it again...

            "Please could you give some reference to documentation etc that verifies your assertion that there is a specific chip that detects "Hey Siri" ?"

            The whole thing was widely discussed when the iPhone 6s was released, because it enabled you to have your phone lying on your desk all day, say "Hey Siri" and use it without ever touching your phone. iPhones have several low power chips that run independent of the rest of the phone, this "Siri" detection chip, motion detection which allows health apps to count the number of steps you are doing without eating the battery, low power bluetooth and so on.

            And yes, it's "Hey Siri" everywhere in the world.

            (And the paranoid on board will go into another tither with that information.).

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Go back and read it again...

          To the downvotes: Enter "Hey Siri Detection" into Google, and the first link https://machinelearning.apple.com/2017/10/01/hey-siri.html explains it all. But since it several pages, I doubt any of the downvoters will bother to read it...

    2. Nifty Silver badge

      But Siri is our safe word

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Siri _cannot_ listen unless you say "Hey Siri" first."

      ...or something it *thinks* sounds like "hey siri". I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt here and assume that the device itself is what listens for and detects the wake phrase and that it's not sending *everything* to Apple for speech recognition in the cloud.

      1. terrythetech
        Facepalm

        Siriously - giving Apple the benefit of the doubt!

        (not a typo!)

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    Hmm.

    Any time Siri heard something it couldn't understand...

    If that is the only time it saves a recording for analysis then I have to say it's probably right to do it. I can't quite see how Apple (or anyone for that matter) can fix their voice recog failures without the sample that failed.

    The key element here is how the user is informed. MS ask up front if they can capture errors/ problems to improve the service, so it's an opt in/out for the user, do Apple do this too?

  9. Graeme Carstairs

    Red button woes

    Did at anypoint the article mention that the snippets of conversation this whistle blower heard came from opted out or opted in to sending data?

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Red button woes

      "Did at anypoint the article mention that the snippets of conversation this whistle blower heard came from opted out or opted in to sending data?"

      The whistle blower is some lowly contractor who was paid to listen to such conversations, that's why he listened to 100 a day. He has no technical experience, no idea how it works, only that he listened to things. He has no clue what's going on behind the scenes. He could not possibly know whether someone opted in or opted out.

      His claim that he heard people having sex will most likely be caused by some weirdos who wanted someone to listen when they have sex.

  10. jonnycando

    I'm not sure whether Apple does this on the sly, but I am using IOS 13.5 beta, and such behavior seems to be opt in.....if it happens regardless how you "opt" then there is a grave problem, if it's actually totally opt in only.....this is much ado about nothing.

  11. md56

    How many ipeople in the world have christened their ichildren Siri? Data?

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      "How many ipeople in the world have christened their ichildren Siri? Data?"

      The words are spelled "people" and "children".

      howmanyofme.com says estimated 1358 Siri's in the USA. Age unknown. Vastly outnumbered by 9,900 Alexas. And most likely unrelated to Apple. I would think the number is currently going down for both names.

  12. X5-332960073452

    Change the activation phrase?

    Can I change the activation phrase from 'Hey Siri' to (say) 'Oi, you nosy cow'?

    Seems you can't.

  13. Falmari Silver badge
    Stop

    Recording conversations must be illegal

    Surely this is illegal even before GDPR.

    This should not even be a thing that you can opt into.

    This is recording conversations therefore other people how can you opt in for them.

    If the police what to place a recording device in your home or wire tap your phone in most countries they need a warrant.

    But hey Apple can do it if a someone I invite into my home has an IPhone.

    Storing of voice data should stop. Any company that wants to do this should first have to prove that what they do does not violate any rights/laws I think you will find that on closer examination they would all violate rights/laws of most countries.

    When I am on the phone to a company’s support desk they make an announcement that the conversation maybe recorded for training purposes maybe IPhone uses should have that statement printed on their forehead.

  14. HelloKaitlyn

    Online Safety?

    We are not safe on the internet. Even if it is not Siri, other servers are recording everything we do online or by simply opening our phone. What we can do best is to avoid posting personal information, use VPN, turn off the built-in microphone when not in need, and find something to cover those webcams.

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