Siri Privacy Whistleblower Calls for Tighter Voice Assistant Privacy Regulation
Thomas le Bonniec, the whistle-blower who exposed that Apple contractors were listening to recordings made by Siri, has come forward in a public letter written to European data protection regulators: he expressed concerns over Apple’s methods and called for “stricter enforcement.”
Le Bonniec quit his Apple subcontractor gig in mid-2019 and recounts having to hear “unwittingly recorded private information as the reason for leaving the company and sharing his information with the press.” While contractors were meant to listen to recordings for “quality control and improvement programs,” the company didn’t communicate this to consumers. Metadata about who the recordings came from were removed, but Siri recorded a lot of private information that people were unknowingly providing including: medical discussions, criminal activity, and intimate encounters.
Nearly every major and some minor voice assistant platforms apologized, halted or changed their programs over privacy concerns. Apple removed contractors entirely and replaced their program with an opt-in system. Despite having exposed Apple last summer, Le Bonniec is still worried that “big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations.” In his letter, he claimed data protection laws alone are not good enough and “[need] to be enforced upon privacy offenders.”
Apple and its competitors will need to reconcile users’ desire for privacy and security with its own “desire to gather more data” to evade tighter regulation.