Apple Responds to US Lawmakers on Privacy: ‘The Customer is Not Our Product’

Apple has tried to justify the privacy protections it has in place for iPhone microphone use following concerns that it was breaching the law and recording users’ calls without their consent.

The Cupertino company made it clear on Tuesday that it doesn’t listen to user conversations without their consent and doesn’t allow third-party apps to do so either. The declaration came after U.S. lawmakers asked the company whether its devices were invading users’ privacy.

Apple, along with Google parent Alphabet, was asked by U.S. lawmakers in July whether its smartphones were overhearing and recording users’ conversations via third-party apps as those apps tried to detect a “trigger” phrase, such as “Okay Google” or “Hey Siri,” CNET reports.

In a letter sent in response, Apple explained that iPhones do not record audio while listening for Siri commands and Siri doesn’t share spoken words. The company added that it requires users to approve microphone access explicitly and apps need to display a clear signal that they are listening.

“We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data,” Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal government affairs, wrote in the company’s response. “When we do collect data, we’re transparent about it and work to disassociate it from the user.”

“The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertisers,” Powderly writes.

Cupertino also told lawmakers it has removed apps over privacy issues, but wouldn’t admit whether it has ever banned a developer over the same issue. It said developers must notify users when an app has been removed over privacy concerns.

The company wrote, “Apple does not and cannot monitor what developers do with the customer data they have collected, or prevent the onward transfer of that data, nor do we have the ability to ensure a developer’s compliance with their own privacy policies or local law.”

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