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Is Siri keeping your secrets?

Siri, Apple's voice controlled assistant, remembers what you tell her. Apple won't say how long she remembers however, and the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned.

Whenever you use Apple’s digital assistant Siri, she remembers what you tell her. This isn’t too different from how Google, Yahoo and Microsoft personalize your searches by remembering what you’ve searched for before. Over the past few years though, the EU has been advocating the user’s privacy and has asked those companies to clear up exactly what kind of search data they’re keeping.

Apple’s service however, isn’t willing to be quite as transparent. Apple has said that it removes recent data when you turn Siri off, but that older data is retained. From Apple’s privacy statement: “If you turn off Siri, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data. 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.”

Can you trust her?

“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 American Civil Liberties Union. According to the ACLU, this matters particularly because the app is marketed as an assistant. You can dictate messages to Siri and generally speaking, it deals with things much more personal than your average google search. Because of how Siri is designed, it’s also less clear that something is being recorded.

Though Ozer admits it’s easier to find the privacy policy for Siri than before (it’s in the iPhone’s settings menu), it has long been difficult to track down and hasn’t even been featured on Apple’s website. That still doesn’t help the ambiguous wording though, something which is enough of a concern that IBM’s CIO Jeanette Horan banned it from IBM’s networks for fear that what people said to Siri might be stored somewhere.

For comparison, Google has explained that their voice search feature anonymizes requests and keeps them for up to 24 months in order to improve speech recognition. However, no personal information is stored and it’s impossible to tell who spoke any particular query.

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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