Surreptitious Siri recordings spawn class-action lawsuit

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Siri Alexa in voice report
The recent controversy surrounding Siri recordings is headed for the courts.
Photo: Apple

A class action lawsuit has been proposed to prevent Apple from recording Siri commands without users’ express consent. And the plaintiffs want restitution, of course.

Apple admits it made recordings of people talking to the Siri voice-control system to improve the system. As part of the process, some of these were listened to by humans.

A whistleblower claims third-party contractors working for Apple frequently overheard private conversations that were recorded when an iPhone or Apple Watch mistakenly believed that the user had activated Siri. This caused the company to suspend its practice of having people review recordings.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

Lawsuit demands permanent changes

A suit filed in the Nothern District of California accuses Apple of “unlawful and intentional recording of individuals’ confidential communications without their consent from approximately October 2011 to the present.“

As evidence, they point out that Apple’s privacy policy says “We may collect and store details of how you use our services, including search queries. This information may be used to improve the relevancy of results provided by our services.” The plaintiffs do not believe that this covers the company recording accidental Siri interactions and letting third-party contractors listen to them, especially when the people being recorded are children.

They want Apple to get consent before recording any minor’s Siri interactions, and all previous ones deleted. As mentioned, the company has already promised to allow people to opt out of its Siri review program. And anyone can make their iPhone stop making these recordings.

The plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit also want “restitution of Plaintiffs’ and the Class members’ money and property lost as a result of Apple’s acts of unfair competition.“ This comes from their claim that they bought Apple devices because these would better protect their privacy than rivals’ would, something they say these secret recordings indicate isn’t true.

If Apple doesn’t rectify their complaints within 30 days, the plaintiffs warn that they’ll seek punitive damages.

Not yet a class action

A lawsuit like this one isn’t actually a class action yet. The plaintiff, Fumiko Lopez and a minor, have asked that it be certified one, but it’s up to the court. The court will base its decision on whether a sufficient number of people have been harmed to warrant a class action.