Siri Whistleblower Goes Public to Protest Lack of Consequences for Apple

Joanna Estrada
May 24, 2020

Passing a law is not good enough: "it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders", said him.

He wrote that such practices are at odds with Apple's "privacy-driven" policies while mentioning that these activities should be urgently investigated by data protection authorities and privacy watchdogs.

Le Bonniec's letter, seen by Reuters, which was published on Thursday, said in reference to European Union data protection laws: "Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders".

A certain Thomas le Bonniec has previously worked under a Siri "grading project" that is tasked with gathering certain snippets or audio clips in order to help improve the program's accuracy.

Exposés on Apple's sharing of users' Siri recordings with third parties in 2019 prompted the tech giant to pledge changes to how data obtained from the devices is used and stored, underscoring that "privacy is a fundamental human right". These recordings were often taken outside of any activation of Siri, eg in the context of an actual intention from the user to activate it for a request.

"However, we have continued with Apple again after the release of this public statement and await responses", he said, referring to the letter. The revelations were part of a wider trend of stories about smart assistant recordings being sent to contracted workers - Amazon had a similar program for Alexa.

"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".

Those recordings included not just the Apple device owner, but also their family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else in vicinity of the device.

"The system recorded everything: names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations".

DPC Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle said the DPC "got engaged to Apple" when the ‌Siri‌ issue came up a year ago, and Apple "made some changes", but now the DPC has additional questions.

It seemed unusual that the tech giant would outsource the listening to Siri recordings to a third party and some of these recordings featured private customer information, including discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, criminal activity, and sexual encounters.

The Apple Inc. logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. "In addition, it should be noted that the European Data Protection Board is working on the production of guidance in the area of voice assistant technologies".

Le Bonniec makes it plain he doesn't believe the issue is being taken seriously enough and that his letter is meant to push the matter.

However, according to the open letter, Apple may have yet to turn their words into actions. This statement will also be shared with the press, and to the organisations protecting our digital rights. The risk I am taking will be worth it only if this letter is followed by a proper investigation and action from your side.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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