A former Apple contractor Thomas le Bonniec has sent a letter to multiple European Regulation Agencies and data privacy experts revealing how Apple has been collecting and storing all Siri recordings. In this letter he condemns Apple for their secretive mass collection of intimate recordings and calls upon European watchdogs and privacy regulators to harshly penalize Apple. le Bonniec was a contractor for Apple’s Siri “grading” project, collecting audio recordings of consumers talking to Siri and transcribing the recording to improve Siri’s accuracy.
In le Bonniec’s letter he voices his concern over lack of consequences stating, “It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.” Thomas le Bonniec worked as a subcontractor for Apple in its Cork offices until he quit in the summer of 2019 due to ethical concerns with the work.
After quitting Apple le Bonniec gave an interview to The Guardian, revealing that while at Apple he transcribed a significant amount of intimate and private conversations about medical information, banking details, even people private details of someone’s love life all recorded by Siri without the phone user’s consent. “I listened to hundreds of recordings every day, from various Apple devices (e.g., iPhones, Apple Watches, or iPads). These recordings were often taken outside of any activation of Siri, e.g., in the context of an actual intention from the user to activate it for a request. These processings were made without users being aware of it,” le Bonniec said in his letter to privacy regulators.
Even though le Bonniec went public with these details a year ago there has been no investigation of Apple by privacy regulators. Apple apologized once le Bonniec’s comments hit the mainstream media and promised massive changes in their “grading” system which was responsible for collecting thousands of Siri recordings.
In late October of last year Apple eventually released a software update that allowed users to opt-in or out of their voice recordings being used to “improve Siri dictation”, and to choose to delete the recordings that Apple had stored. The problem though is Apple has faced no backlash for all the personal data and conversations that have been transcribed since Siri has existed.
Le Bonniec writes in his letter, “The recordings were not limited to the users of Apple devices, but also involved relatives, children, friends, colleagues, and whoever could be recorded by the device. The system recorded everything: names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations.” That sounds a lot like mass surveillance and data collection including the fact that all of this is done without the phone user’s consent. People joke about our phones listening, but for there to be legitimate proof is another sign that you need to be aware of how many devices in the modern world are constantly recording and collecting information.