Apple Facing Lawsuit for 'Unlawful and Intentional' Recording of Confidential Siri Requests Without User Consent
Apple's Siri practices were highlighted in a recent report where one of the contractors claimed that Apple employees evaluating Siri recordings often hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and other private information when Siri is activated accidentally.
The lawsuit, filed in a Northern California court today (and shared by CNBC's Kif Leswing), accuses Apple of "unlawful and intentional recording of individuals' confidential communications without their consent," violating California privacy laws when accidental Siri activations are recorded and evaluated by humans.
Siri Devices are only supposed to record conversations preceded by the utterance of "Hey Siri" (a "wake phrase") or through a specific gesture, such as pressing the home button on a device for a specified amount of time. California law prohibits the recording of oral communications without the consent of all parties to the communication.
Individuals who have purchased or used Siri Devices and interacted with Siri have not consented to Apple recording conversations where "Hey Siri" was not uttered or where they did not otherwise perform a gesture intending to activate Siri, such as pressing and holding down the home button on a device for a certain period of time.
As outlined in its privacy policies, Apple collects some anonymized Siri recordings for the purpose of improving Siri and, presumably, cutting down on accidental Siri activations. These recordings are analyzed by humans and can include details recorded when Siri mishears a "Hey Siri" trigger word.
The plaintiffs in the case, one of whom is a minor, claim to own an iPhone XR and an iPhone 6 that they would not have purchased had they known that their Siri recordings were stored for evaluation. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for all individuals who were recorded by a Siri device without their consent from October 12, 2011 to the present.
The lawsuit asks for Apple to obtain consent before recording a minor's Siri interactions, to delete all existing recordings, and to prevent unauthorized recordings in the future. It also asks for $5,000 in damages per violation.
Apple has suspended its Siri evaluation program right now as it reviews the processes that are in place in light of the contractor's claims. Prior to the suspension of the program, Apple said that a small, random subset (less than 1%) of daily Siri requests are analyzed for improving Siri and dictation, with requests not associated with a user's Apple ID.
Apple in the future plans to release a software update that will let Siri users opt out of having their Siri queries included in the evaluation process, something that's not possible at the current time. All collected Siri data can be cleared from an iOS device by turning Siri off and then on again, while accidental recordings can be stopped by disabling "Hey Siri."