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Privacy concerns as Apple admits Siri recordings are shared

There have been reports over the last few days of Apple ‘admitting’ to sharing personal data with third-party companies.

This comes hot on the tails of the recent Reddit story about an employee of Walk N’Talk Technologies who was asked to listen to sound bites from random smartphone users issuing voice commands to their devices. The anonymous poster – online handle FallenMyst – claims to have heard everything from “kiddos asking innocent thinks like ‘Siri, do you like me?'” alongside many, much worse commands.

While Apple hasn’t officially issued a statement, digging through the iOS8 Software License Agreement uncovers the following paragraph which is currently doing the rounds as ‘proof’ of the anonymous Reddit story:

“By using Siri or Dictation, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its subsidiaries’ and agents’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing, and use of this information, including your voice input and User Data, to provide and improve Siri, Dictation, and dictation functionality in other Apple products and services.”

Does anybody actually read those terms and conditions before hitting accept? Didn’t think so.

Apple’s official privacy message from Tim Cook states that no stored personal information is used for marketing, or for anything else that could be considered even remotely evil – it’s only to improve the service itself. It doesn’t sound as though Walk N’Talk were using the audio for anything aside from testing the accuracy of the voice recognition software, but the fact that these recordings exist and are being shared is enough to cause concern for a great many people.

Although not strictly a revelation, this is definitely not good press for Apple. Despite being one of many companies to engage in this kind of data harvesting, they seem to be getting called out on it more than anyone else at the moment. Android phones store voice commands from their phones as well, presumably for similar purposes, but Google are a little more open about the fact and even let you listen back to your own voice requests via their Audio History page.

With the news that Microsoft’s own digital assistant Cortana is to make its way onto iOS as a standalone app later this year, could this bad press for Apple pave the way for iPhone users to ditch the maligned Siri in favor of rising upstart Cortana? Recent Microsoft ads have already thrown down the gauntlet and we could be in for a straight face-off between the competing AIs before too long.

Regardless, next time you’re dictating a potentially embarrassing message to your iPhone, just remember – it might not only be Siri who gets to listen to it.

Further reading: simple tricks to boost Siri’s usefulness