A former Apple contractor says that Apple and other tech giants continue to ignore and violate “fundamental rights” with their “massive collection of data.” And he wants them investigated for it.
Thomas le Bonniec is one of the ex-Apple contractors whose job involved listening to users’ Siri recordings. News of the practice broke last year, but this is the first time le Bonniec has gone public.
In a letter sent to European data regulators, reported Wednesday by The Guardian, le Bonniec wrote that:
“I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders.”
Whistleblower on Siri data collection
According to The Guardian, Le Bonniec’s job was to transcribe Siri requests. This was for both English and French language Siri. The work was carried out at Apple’s Cork offices in Ireland. He quit in the summer of 2019 because of ethical concerns.
“I listened to hundreds of recordings every day, from various Apple devices (eg. iPhones, Apple Watches, or iPads),” he said. “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.”
In addition to Apple users, Le Bonniec said that some of the people recorded included “relatives, children, friends, colleagues,” and others. Information included everything from names and addresses to private conversations about a range of topics — “with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever.”
Apple presents itself as a privacy conscious company
Apple is one of the most privacy conscious tech companies. Unlike many of its large rivals, Apple’s business model is not based on monetizing user data. Privacy has become a big selling point for Apple products. For instance, last year it erected a large privacy-focused billboard in Las Vegas, at CES, reading: “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.”
However, Le Bonniec suggested that there may be gaps in Apple’s privacy policies. He said that Apple should be “urgently investigated by data protection authorities and Privacy watchdogs … Although this case has already gone public, Apple has not been subject to any kind of investigation to the best of my knowledge.”
The original Siri complaint regarding data collection
The Guardian broke the story that Apple subcontractors were employed to listen to Siri recordings in summer 2019. Apple said that it listened to a certain portion of Siri recordings for “grading” purposes. The Guardian claimed that contractors had accidentally heard, “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”
In the aftermath, Apple introduced new controls to let users better control what Siri data was shared. (Check out our “how to” post here.) Apple also laid off the contractors who had been working on the project.