Apple is at the center of another legal storm after a federal court gave its approval to a class-action lawsuit alleging that Siri eavesdropped on users’ conversations and violated their privacy. Now, this is not the first time that Apple’s virtual assistant has been embroiled in such a controversy. Back in 2019, it was reported that Apple’s contractors listened to private user conversations in the name of quality control for Siri. The company subsequently had to issue a public apology after the scandal and made a slew of changes, such as a no-retention policy for Siri voice recordings and announcing that only Apple employees will have access to voice recordings.
In the wake of the revelation, Apple was hit with a lawsuit claiming that its virtual assistant logged conversations without user consent. Needless to say, the company received a ton of flak for not informing users about sensitive privacy policies and had to suspend the Siri grading program across the globe. Going a step further, Apple quickly announced a new feature that allowed users to delete their Siri voice recordings stored on Apple servers, even though the process was not as easy as deleting similar voice data for Google Assistant. On a positive note, Siri voice data is not traceable to an Apple account as the stored recordings are all linked to random identifiers.
It now appears that the ghosts of Siri’s privacy violations are going to haunt Apple once again. As per Reuters, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland allowed plaintiffs to go ahead with nearly all class action lawsuit claims accusing Siri of intruding on their privacy. The virtual assistant is said to have routinely recorded user conversations without them invoking hot words like ‘Hey Siri’ to activate the AI assistant. These ‘accidental activations’ allowed Siri to listen to users’ conversations and the information was then shared with advertisers, according to the claims.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that they received targeted ads for products and services after Siri eavesdropped on their conversations without them knowing about it. Taking cognizance of the charges leveled against Apple, the company could be held accountable for violating the federal Wiretap Act and California privacy regulations. However, the company cannot be held liable for misleading marketing as the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that they suffered any financial losses due to these ‘accidental activations’ of the AI assistant. Apple is yet to issue a statement regarding the legal charges brought against it.
Siri is not the only voice assistant to get mired in a privacy controversy. In the same year as the aforementioned Siri privacy scandal broke, it was also found that Google employees could listen to private conversations via Google Assistant-powered smart speakers, and over a thousand voice recordings were leaked by a contractor. Amazon’s Alexa has an even worse track record. However, Siri’s privacy violation is not the only legal trouble brewing for Apple. The company might soon be investigated for abusing its dominant market position in India over its stringent App Store revenue-sharing rules that are said to harm developers and local payment processing companies as well.