Siri Storage Habits Have Privacy Advocates Buzzing

Image Courtesy Apple

The Internets are quietly humming with the recent realization that Apple is, uh, absorbing your “personal” data if you use Siri – the voice-activated personal assistant (of sorts) that lives in the iPhone 4S (launched in October 2011).

What does that mean, precisely? Well, according to information disseminated by the ACLU, Apple’s privacy policy in relation to the Siri software allows the tech mammoth to harvest, send and stockpile “Voice Input Data” (what you say to Siri) and “User Data” (personal information on your phone, like contacts and associated nicknames; e-mail account labels; and names and playlists of songs on your phone).

This information is sent and stored at a data center in Maiden, North Carolina. From there, it remains murky what happens with your personal data. What does Apple actually do (or intend to do) with this data? No one seems to know, other than “generally to improve the overall accuracy and performance of Siri and other Apple products and services.” (again, according to the ACLU citing the Siri privacy policy, which is damn near impossible to actually find online). How long is it stored? Who actually looks at it and who is it shared with? Shoulder shrugs all around.

So murky is the status of stored Siri data, that IBM recently barred employees from using Siri on its networks – for fear of sensitive data and spoken information might be obtained by Apple. IBM CIO Jeanette Horan told MIT’s Technology Review that employees could still bring iPhones to work, but using the Siri technology would no longer be allowed. To be fair, IBM has also banned other apps, like Dropbox, for fear of information leaking out through file-sharing gaps in security.

This new wave of Siri-related negative news for Apple comes on the heels of a class action lawsuit filed against Apple claiming that they falsely advertised Siri’s capabilities and news that the Samsung Galaxy S3 has become the most pre-ordered device in gadget history with 9 million pre-orders (compared to 4 million for the iPhone 4S last year).

If you’d rather not have Siri enabled on your phone, it’s pretty easy to shut it off. Tap “Settings,”  then “General,” then Siri. Switch the Siri option to “Off.”