Apple could be fined $22 million for eavesdropping on Siri requests

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Siri Lights
Apple admitted to listening in on Siri requests.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission wants answers from Apple about why it let contractors listen to private Siri recordings. The data protection watchdog is looking into whether Apple’s GDPR privacy obligations.

Should Apple be found guilty, it could be fined up to 20 million euros ($22 million) or 4% of its annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

Apple has temporarily halted its practice of listening to a certain portion of Siri recordings. These records were made for “grading” purposes. The idea was to use the information to improve Siri.

Apple stopped its recordings after news broke that it shared recordings with third-party contractors. Apple’s contractors hired to do the job have subsequently been let go.

“We realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize,” Apple said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Data Protection Commission said that:

“The Data Protection Commission (DPC) is engaging with Apple to establish further details on the processing of personal data in the context of the manual transcription of audio recordings collected by their digital assistants and to establish how they believe that such processing of data is compliant with their GDPR obligations.”

An Apple representative has been requested to appear before a relevant committee to answer questions.

The DPC already has multiple investigations looking into Apple’s business practices. Each of these covers a different aspect of the GDPR legislation.

The privacy backlash

The PR backlash against Apple is largely due to its vocal position as a defender of privacy. Recently, the company debuted new privacy-focused billboards in Europe.

Tim Cook has also spoken out in favor of GDPR, the data protection legislation introduced in Europe last year. He has suggested similar rules should be applied in the U.S. At the time, Cook described the, “stock piles of personal data only enrich the companies that collect them.” He continued that: “This should make us uncomfortable and unsettle us.”

Finding itself on the wrong side of these GDPR rules would therefore surely be a bad look for Apple. Recently, lawmakers in the U.S. accused Apple of only paying lip service to enacting privacy laws. Apple has denied those allegations.

Resuming its Siri grading program

Apple plans to resume its Siri grading program in the fall. However, it will no longer retain audio recordings of users by default. Users will also be able to opt-out of the process. Finally, those users who do opt-in can listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions.

We’ll keep you updated on the latest Data Protection Commission complaint against Apple. Hopefully all parties involved will be able to reach a resolution that works in the favor of users.

What do you think the right solution to this problem would be? Were you surprised to hear that a portion of Siri requests were being analyzed by Apple? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Irish Examiner