SiriSource: Apple

What you need to know

  • A former Apple contractor has written to the EU, calling for action over Apple's Siri data collection.
  • Thomas le Bonniec previously worked in Apple's Cork offices, transcribing Siri user requests.
  • He says that Apple, and other big companies, are violating fundamental rights by collecting massive amounts of data.

A former Apple contractor has written to the EU over his concerns regarding Apple's policy of collecting and listening to Siri data.

Thomas le Bonniec worked as a subcontractor for Apple in its Cork Offices, before quitting due to "ethical concerns." As The Guardian reports, Le Bonniec has now written to the EU stating:

"It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.

I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders."

In August of 2019, Apple was rocked by a scandal over the news that Apple contractors were paid to listen to thousands of Siri recordings a day. It seemed strange that Apple would outsource the listening to of Siri recordings to a third party, especially when it emerged that some recordings featured incredibly private customer information, including discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, criminal activity, and sexual encounters.

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Le Bonniec appears to have been employed by Apple as a subcontractor as part of this operation, and at the time of leaving in 2019 told The Guardian:

"They do operate on a moral and legal grey area... and they have been doing this for years on a massive scale. They should be called out in every possible way."

Apple has since changed its policy, hiring in-house employees to grade Siri recordings, and offering customers the opportunity to opt-out of having their voice recordings being used, as well as asking any stored recordings be deleted. In his letter to the EU, the whistleblower stated:

"The recordings were not limited to the users of Apple devices, but also involved relatives, children, friends, colleagues, and whoever could be recorded by the device. The system recorded everything: names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations. I heard people talking about their cancer, referring to dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, politics, school, relationships, or drugs with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever.

"These practices are clearly at odds with the company's 'privacy-driven' policies and should be urgently investigated by data protection authorities and Privacy watchdogs. With the current statement, I want to bring this issue to your attention, and also offer my cooperation to provide any element substantiating these facts. Although this case has already gone public, Apple has not been subject to any kind of investigation to the best of my knowledge."

Whilst not mentioning any changes Apple has made to its policy since last summer's revelations, Le Bonniec seems more focused on the fact that Apple faced no scrutiny at the time the revelations were made.