A leading UK privacy warrior has urged Apple to explain itself after the tech titan admitted Siri queries are kept on record for two years.
Nick Pickles, director of pressure group Big Brother Watch, spoke out after the iPhone maker today revealed exactly how long it retains questions fired at its voice-controlled personal assistant app.
He said Apple needs to be open and honest about what it does with these queries and requests - which can be anything from "tell my wife I love her" to "where's the nearest vodka bar?" The questions are sent to Apple's cloud for processing, and Siri responds.
"There needs to be a very high justification for retaining such intrusive data for longer than is absolutely necessary to provide the service," Pickles said.
"Apple need to come clean and say what they are storing, for how long and most importantly, why. As consumers become increasingly concerned about their privacy, companies cannot afford to keep their customers in the dark about what happens to information."
Apple revealed it was holding onto anonymised search queries for up to 24 months after the firm came under pressure to explain what "period of time" actually meant in this section of its Siri privacy statement:
If you turn off Siri, Apple will delete your user data, as well as your recent voice input data. Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Siri and other Apple products and services.
Nicole Ozer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, wants Apple to make its Siri privacy statement a lot more obvious. Currently, it can only be viewed from the app's settings page, but she wants today's admission splashed all over the Apple website.
“There is no good reason for Apple to not include information about privacy practices on their Siri FAQ page,” Ozer said.
She also warned people to be careful what they ask Siri. She added: “What you say to Siri could reveal sensitive things about you, your family, or business. Siri works for Apple, so make a note to yourself to really think before you speak.”
A spokesman for Apple UK did not respond to The Register's request for comment.
But, speaking to WiReD, Cupertino spokeswoman Trudy Muller explained that each search recording is assigned an ID number, and when the recording is six months old, the number is deleted. But this “disassociated” voice data is kept on file for a further 18 months so Apple can use it to supposedly improve services.
“Apple may keep anonymised Siri data for up to two years,” Muller said. “If a user turns Siri off, both identifiers are deleted immediately along with any associated data. Our customers’ privacy is very important to us.” ®
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