The American Civil Liberties Union appealed to Wired yesterday to express their concern over how long Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant, remembers what you tell or ask her. From their perspective, Siri’s Privacy Agreement is vague, as there is no clear information on when data is deleted – for instance when you turn Siri off, as one might imagine – or, most importantly, how this process works.
“If you turn off Siri, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data,” Apple’s privacy statement reads. “Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Siri and other Apple products and services.”
“So your Siri queries may be stored anonymously by Apple for just a few months. Or they may not.”
“It’s not clear what ‘disassociated’ means. It’s not clear what ‘period of time’ means. It’s not clear what using it to ‘generally improve Siri and other Apple products and services’ means,” says Nicole Ozer, a lawyer with the ACLU. “The only thing that’s clear is we really don’t know what may be happening to the personal information we have told Siri, even after we turn Siri off.”
After the post went public, Apple’s spokeswoman Trudy Muller contacted Wired to explain Apple’s policy, saying that the customer’s privacy is very important, and the company is taking steps to anonymize the data and only collects the Siri voice clips with the aim to improve Siri.
“Here’s what happens. Whenever you speak into Apple’s voice activated personal digital assistant, it ships it off to Apple’s data farm for analysis. Apple generates a random numbers to represent the user and it associates the voice files with that number. This number — not your Apple user ID or email address — represents you as far as Siri’s back-end voice analysis system is concerned.”
“Once the voice recording is six months old, Apple “disassociates” your user number from the clip, deleting the number from the voice file. But it keeps these disassociated files for up to 18 more months for testing and product improvement purposes.”
“Apple may keep anonymized Siri data for up to two years,” Muller says “If a user turns Siri off, both identifiers are deleted immediately along with any associated data.”
Apple’s explanation could be the first step in making the process public according to Nicole Ozer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, who also notes that there is room for improvement in terms of informing the customer. Ozer points to the Siri FAQ page, where she says Apple could include information about privacy practices.
What do you think?