It sometimes feels like every technological advancement is scarier than the last. Some, like those robots that can do backflips, are objectively terrifying. Others, like Amazon’s Alexa, present more nuanced threats: they’re kind of awesome, but if they can be voice-activated with just a few words, how do they know when to stop and start listening? Most virtual assistant apps, including Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, work in the same way, raising potential privacy issues.
On Tuesday, Apple responded to a letter from House Energy and Commerce Committee sent to the company last month that explicitly asked Apple to respond to reports that Siri listens to conversations through the phone microphone. In a letter obtained by CNET and expounded on by Engadget, Apple said they “believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design products and services to minimize our collection of customer data.”
In addition, Apple insists “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.” (Can you hear that? It’s the soothing sound of Mark Zuckerberg getting subbed by a trillion dollar tech company in a letter to a government agency.)
As it pertains to the iPhone and Siri, Apple further explained that the device is only interested in two specific words, “Hey Siri,” which activates the assistant, who in turn confirms whether the user really wanted to use it. Anything subsequently said is not associated with your Apple ID, tied instead to a random device identifier. In addition, Apple confirmed it does not record data collected from your phone’s location with your name or Apple ID and also does not use this information to sell targeted advertisements.
To be totally fair, Zuckerberg denied that Facebook listens to users during his congressional hearing back in April. It’s a small win for users who enjoy their privacy, but considering just how much of your information Facebook hoards, it’s not too much to be happy over.
Apple’s letter is comforting, even if unsurprising for those familiar with the company’s values. The tech giant has continually reaffirmed their commitment to user privacy, whether that’s in continuing to make it harder for police to unlock your phone without your permission or in shading Facebook’s inability to stop being creepy.