Have you watched this commercial yet?  Apple just released a new commercial promoting hands free Siri and introduced their new pitch man… wait for it… The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.  Everyone loves the Cookie Monster. He is nice and trustworthy unless you have a plate of cookies in front of him.  So why is the pairing of Cookie Monster and Siri a bit of a problem?  In one word – privacy.

Have you watched this commercial yet?  Apple just released a new commercial promoting hands free Siri and introduced their new pitch man… wait for it… The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.  Everyone loves the Cookie Monster. He is nice and trustworthy unless you have a plate of cookies in front of him.  So why is the pairing of Cookie Monster and Siri a bit of a problem?  In one word – privacy.

Apple’s has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, Microsoft has Cortana, Google has OK Google and Cable providers like Comcast have the X1 voice controlled viewing experience.  The growing trend of using voice to control devices is now getting more spotlight.  We’ve always had applications like Dragon Naturally Speaking which enabled speech commands and ways to translate spoken word into text, but these new services are taking voice control and using machine learning to take user experience to another level.

How Private Is Your Conversation with Siri?

Make no mistake, every voice search, command or dictation you make on your connected device is stored somewhere and as companies collect more data on your searches and commands they should begin to anticipate your needs.  Think for a minute about everything you say to Siri being stored somewhere for at least a couple years.  If you’re a college student this might not be a big concern.  If you are a healthcare professional this could raise HIPAA concerns about the security and encryption of the data (voice/text) and where that data is physically stored.  In the past Apple revealed that it stores the information it collects from Siri for two years, but it disassociates it from your Apple ID.  This is a good first step to make the files more secure but you should be careful about what you say to Siri because you could reveal sensitive information about yourself and family that you may have thought was private.  ZDNet reported in 2013 that some companies like IBM have banned the use of Siri because they cannot guarantee the security of their data.

Apple’s Statement on Siri

The longer you use Siri and Dictation, the better they understand you and the better they work. To help them recognize your pronunciation and provide better responses, certain information such as your name, contacts, and songs in your music library is sent to Apple servers using encrypted protocols. That said, Siri and Dictation do not associate this information with your Apple ID, but rather with your device through a random identifier. Apple Watch uses the Siri identifier from your iPhone. You can reset that identifier at any time by turning Siri and Dictation off and back on, effectively restarting your relationship with Siri and Dictation. When you turn Siri and Dictation off, Apple will delete the User Data associated with your Siri identifier, and the learning process will start all over again.

When you use Siri to search by location or album name in the Photos app, we never send your photos or any information about them. Album names are only sent to Siri to help provide you with better results.

If you have Location Services turned on, the location of your device at the time you make a request will also be sent to Apple to help Siri improve the accuracy of its response to your requests. You may choose to turn off Location Services for Siri and Dictation in your Privacy settings.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make voice control more helpful and companies still need to increase user adoption and trust.  At this point, each company is dipping their toe in the pool and hoping that voice control is the next best thing.  Companies will continue to struggle with providing bleeding edge technology and more intuitive products while delivering privacy.  As technological innovation goes up in many cases privacy goes down.  Remember, even with disassociating your data with your ID, there is always a way to find out where that message was created.  Keep that in mind the next time you say say hi to Siri.

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In the words of Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”