Siri unintentionally listens in: Apple cannot get rid of the data protection lawsuit


A US judge has admitted most of the allegations in a Siri privacy lawsuit against Apple. The plaintiffs are thus given the opportunity in the further course of the proceedings to present evidence of their allegations that Apple is eavesdropping on private conversations through “unintentional activations” of Siri and that their content is passed on to third parties – for advertising purposes, for example.

The procedure is now to clarify whether Siri’s functionality violated California data protection law, Apple committed a breach of contract and the Federal Wiretap Act, which regulates data protection requirements for communications services, was violated. Only the allegation of unfair competition was removed from the class action, like the news agency Reuters reported (Lopez et al vs. Apple, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 5:19-cv-04577).

The lawsuit goes back to the Siri data protection scandal of 2019: Employees of Apple subcontractors had turned to the public at the time and reported on a day-to-day work in which Siri audio recordings were evaluated under mostly lax data protection practices. In the recordings, very intimate details could be heard over and over again, as well as personal and sometimes compromising information that would enable identification, it said at the time.

Apple then temporarily stopped the human evaluation and promised data protection improvements; since autumn 2019, Siri requests can also be processed by humans again if the user has given their one-time consent to this further processing. Since then, according to Apple, recordings from unintentional activation of the voice assistance system have no longer been evaluated – they would be deleted immediately.

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One of the Siri whistleblowers turned to European data protection authorities again last year and asked them to conduct an investigation. All voice assistants listening in should be stopped, not just Siri, according to the whistleblower. Similar class action lawsuits as those against Apple were also brought against the manufacturers of competing voice assistance systems Google and Amazon in the USA.


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