Note to Self: Siri Not Just Working for Me, Working Full-Time for Apple, Too

By: Nicole A. Ozer

It came as a surprise to some folks at a recent SXSW talk that Apple's Siri "personal assistant" isn't just working for us, it's working full-time for Apple too by sending lots of our personal voice and user info to Apple to stockpile in its databases. Take a peek at Siri's privacy policy (which, by the way, is pretty difficult to find) and you'll realize what's happening behind the scenes.

What info of yours is being collected and how is it being used? When you use Siri, it's sending your "Voice Input Data" and "User Data" to Apple to be used for a variety of purposes.

Voice Input Data is all the types of data associated with your verbal commands and may also include audio recordings, transcripts of what you said, and related diagnostic data. Apple says this Voice Input Data is being used to process your request and to help Siri better recognize your commands, but it's additionally being used "generally to improve the overall accuracy and performance of Siri and other Apple products and services."

Siri also collects "User Data" that it says gives it more context for your commands, like what you mean by "Call Dad." This information can be pretty wide-ranging:

  • The names of your address book contacts, their nicknames, and their relationship with you (for example, "my dad", or "work")
  • Your first name and nickname
  • Labels you assign to your email accounts (for example, "My Home Email")
  • Names of songs and playlists in your collection

This data can be really personal, like if you ask Siri, "where is the nearest abortion clinic?" And once Voice Input Data and User Data is collected, Apple reserves the right to share it with "Apple's partners who are providing related services to Apple."

Not sure that Siri is worth the serious data it's collecting and how it might end up getting used? Rather live without Siri? Here's how to opt out and stop your voice data and user data from continuing to be sent to Apple.

Opting out of Siri

  • Tap Settings > General > Siri.
  • Slide the Siri option to "off."

Once you turn off Siri, Apple's privacy policy says it will delete User Data and any recent Voice Input Data. Though older Voice Input Data that has been already "disassociated" from you and your device may linger for an undisclosed period of time to "improve Siri and other Apple products and services."

Additional Note to Self: Find out what services like Siri are doing before you start using them. One way to stay informed is to keep up with the ACLU's dotRights digital privacy campaign (you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter). There may be a lot more going on than initially meets the eye.

Nicole A. Ozer is the Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director with the ACLU of Northern California.