Apple Vows iPhones Do Not Listen In On Users... But Its Apps Are Another Story

In the aftermath of numerous reports that Amazon's Alexa speakers were "accidentally" listening in, and in some cases recording the conversations of their owners, on Tuesday Apple responded to US lawmakers whether its iPhones invade users' privacy and listen in on conversation without their consent: Apple's response: a resounding "no", and added that it does not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy.

Representatives Greg Walden, Marsha Blackburn, Gregg Harper and Robert Latta wrote to Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook and Alphabet chief executive Larry Page in July, citing concerns about reports that smartphones could “collect ‘non-triggered’ audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone in order to hear a ‘trigger’ phrase, such as ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Siri.’"

In a letter to Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Apple said iPhones do not record audio while listening for Siri wakeup commands and that Siri does not share spoken words. Apple also vowed that it requires users to explicitly approve microphone access and that apps must display a clear signal that they are listening, which of course .

"We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data," Apple executive Timothy Powderly wrote in the leter to Walden. "The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertisers."

Which is great for Apple, because virtually every other social media's business model depends on precisely that.

The letters, in which lawmakers cited reports suggesting third-party applications had access to and used ‘non-triggered’ data without users’ knowledge, followed congressional hearings in April into Facebook Inc’s privacy practices, which included testimony by its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Reuters reported. Apple declined to comment beyond its letter, which was seen by Reuters.

Apple also wrote that it had removed apps from its App Store over privacy violations but declined to say whether it had ever banned a developer. It also said it was up to developers to notify users when an app was removed for privacy reasons, an obligation which we are "confident" they all strictly follow.

Or maybe not, because as even Apple admitted, it's really up to the developer to be honest with the user.

Apple does not and cannot monitor what developers do with the customer data they have collected, or prevent the onward transfer of that data, nor do we have the ability to ensure a developer’s compliance with their own privacy policies or local law,” Apple wrote.

In other words, sellers of apps for the Iphone, a business that has generated $100 billion in revenue for developers over the past decade, and tens of billions for Apple, can do anything they want. And while Apple affirmed that it removed apps from the App Store over privacy violations, it declined to say whether it ever banned any developers.

Furthermore, for some reason lawmakers only focused on smartphones, even though they should widen their scope to encompass smart speakers. After all, there’s one huge elephant in the room that’s missing in here. That’s Amazon, which doesn’t make any smartphones of its own, but whose Alexa assistant is the best-sold voice assistant for home. And we all remember how, only a few months ago, some Echo speaker users discovered their devices recorded a piece of their conversation and then sent that audio file to a contact. All that happened without the explicit consent of the users.

And as a reminder, here is the shocked response from one Amazon Echo user who found that her conversations were anything but private.

Comments

Cognitive Dissonance Wed, 08/08/2018 - 07:46 Permalink

Mrs. Cog and I are quite certain our iPhone is listening to us. Several times we have mentioned to each other a product or service we might purchase. We had not searched the internet for the product or service.

Within 24-48 hours that (exact) product is showing up in ads on various websites. Our daughters tell us the same thing occurs with them and their significant others.

 

ThanksChump HopefulCynical Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:05 Permalink

Any developer understands that iOS (iPhone, iPad, etc) is a black box. Android, as shipped with a phone, is also a black box. The difference is that you can install your own custom version of Android on an Android device, and you have complete control over what it can or can't do.

 

If your phone is listening to you, and that's highly doubtful, it's your own fault. In related news: it's also not Ford's fault if your 3yo takes off in your Mustang, or if you try to go 100MPH in first gear.

In reply to by HopefulCynical

two hoots ThanksChump Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:13 Permalink

The government will protect us from military aggression (support MIC), or be concerned over Russian eavesdropping (on them) but could give a shit if our privacy is violated or any other abuse to amendments/Bill of Rights.

No wonder people have zero trust in our government, they have abandoned any responsibility of protecting our rights, only worry about theirs. 

Talking about Apple/developers is like talking about criminals, for a fix you must talk about law/legal rights enforcement.

What people thought that made Apple special is becoming glowingly unspecial, mainly the security/protection.   All along they were protecting their brand, not users. 

In reply to by ThanksChump

Last of the Mi… small axe Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:27 Permalink

I call BS. Ever logged out  of candy crush? You go back to level 1. I deleted messenger because the way you kept having to log out kept being hidden and changed almost weekly. This is a game these guys are playing and to have Tim spew this crap is like having some pedophile take your kid to the bathroom with "I promise". 

And I can prove it. Why is there no touch ID to log out of all apps button with a listing of which ones you want shut down? Why is there no log out after 15 min. option all apps? Why is there to information on the amount of data the phone sends to apple and developers by app? Why is there no information telling how much and which apps are currently using geolocation?

Go bullshit someone else Apple. 

In reply to by small axe

Manipuflation Cognitive Dissonance Wed, 08/08/2018 - 07:58 Permalink

If my Ipad listens to me it would have heard "What the fuck are you doing?", which is, as it turns out, about my only audible remarks these days at 2.5 game back of the Cubs.  Seriously?  You lost to the Padres after posting a four run lead in the first inning?  Check out the box score for that game.  It is the epitome of disappointment.  Counsel needs his head examined. 

How does that game even happen?  It is baseball though.  On any given day one team can beat another.

There will be more games.

In reply to by Cognitive Dissonance

Never_Guess Cognitive Dissonance Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:02 Permalink

What you describe is definitely an accurate description of what is happening. But what most people don’t realize is the amount of metadata they produce online. This type of data is so plentiful, I have even seen accounts of  how the data companies can now generate a “virtual language fingerprint” and match it to something as inconspicuous as your typing habits. Yes, the speed that you type, the frequency of your edits, everything can be data mined in the form of meta data. Many don’t even realize this, but their Facebook posts are so plentiful that, when properly analyzed, can be used to correlate their Facebook profile with other social media and even chat boards using nothing more than their sentence structure and commonly used language habits. Be aware of this, minimize interaction with social media. If you don’t think that this can be weaponized, you’re a fool.

In reply to by Cognitive Dissonance

CheapBastard Never_Guess Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:14 Permalink

I believe that very much. No doubts in my mind. The only doubt I have is how much of that they can actually interpret or analyze because they have so much data/info.

But as said above, THEY are watching you. Example; I was looking at birthday cake designs for my nephews celebration. Within 24 hours ads popped up about bakeries in my area.

Crazy stuff, right.

In reply to by Never_Guess

Endgame Napoleon Never_Guess Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:50 Permalink

Okay, we’re fools. They’re geniuses. Hey geniuses: There is a lot that you don’t know about the business I was in for about a decade. Describing the details of that business to a PhD candidate, he said “I had no idea there was so much to that business. I never even thought about it.” There is a lot more depth to any business—even businesses that high-tech people would regard as beneath them—than most non-insiders know. 

In reply to by Never_Guess

Cognitive Dissonance ToSoft4Truth Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:12 Permalink

I do...with full and complete understanding this is happening. I always knew it could, and eventually would, happen.

My statement above is just that, a statement. It is not a complaint. This is all part of being personally responsible and sovereign. If I decide I am going to use a product or service not of my own making, then I accept any and all consequences of its use regardless of whether the manufacturer or salesperson properly informed me of any and all consequences.

I accept that by using anything I may be harmed by its use. This actually compels me to be more aware and forces me to be a more discriminating consumer. There can be no victimization if I refuse to be a victim. And the first step to being victimized is to believe others are responsible for my own welfare and happiness.

In reply to by ToSoft4Truth

two hoots Cognitive Dissonance Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:22 Permalink

"first step to being victimized is to believe others are responsible......"

Agree, however, we should not excuse government agency/congressional responsibility.   Doing so gives them continued room to become disengaged from their duties and us.   We pay for their service so we can go on with our lives and we should never retreat from demanding responsibility.

In reply to by Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance two hoots Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:29 Permalink

Agree, however, we should not excuse government agency/congressional responsibility.

I find no fault with your statement. However, most people use the excuse the 'authorities' are not doing their 'job' to self righteously declare themselves victimized by the authority.

Bottom line, people who wish to be victimized will find a way to be victimized.

I have a personal code of conduct. Never ask of others what I am not willing to do myself. So many people out there demand of others what they would never, or could never, do.

Time for personal responsibility to come back into vogue. Until then, the spiral down into the abyss will not only continue, but accelerate.

In reply to by two hoots

Endgame Napoleon ToSoft4Truth Wed, 08/08/2018 - 08:56 Permalink

The fact that customers like many things about the phones does not mean that their complaints should fall on deaf ears, with a bunch of psychobabble and / or condescension thrown in. There is an arrogance here, like they have a built-in, massive, automatic customer base. A lot of that comes from the gargantuan global market, which has reduced our rights, our leverage in jobs, our middle-class standard of living, our liberty, the value of our labor and so much more. They can just ignore individual customers or throw their usage of the product back at them, dismissing complaints since they use the product, after all. 

In reply to by ToSoft4Truth