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Northern Calif. Judge Dismisses Lawsuit That Accused Apple of Recording of Siri Requests Without User Consent

Northern Calif. Judge Dismisses Lawsuit That Accused Apple of Recording of Siri Requests Without User Consent

A Northern California judge on Wednesday dismissed a class-action lawsuit that claimed Apple unlawfully and intentionally recorded confidential Siri communications without user consent.

The lawsuit was first filed in August 2019 following the revelation that Apple had employed contractors to listen to and grade select anonymized Siri conversations. The grading was intended to improve the Siri product.

The suit claimed Apple’s actions violated California privacy laws.

Siri Devices are only supposed to record conversations preceded by the utterance of “Hey Siri” (a “wake phrase”) or through a specific gesture, such as pressing the home button on a device for a specified amount of time. California law prohibits the recording of oral communications without the consent of all parties to the communication. 

Individuals who have purchased or used Siri Devices and interacted with Sirihave not consented to Apple recording conversations where “Hey Siri” was not uttered or where they did not otherwise perform a gesture intending to activate Siri, such as pressing and holding down the home button on a device for a certain period of time.

July 2019 report highlighted Apple’s practices where contractors around the world listen to Siri voice data collected from customers, in order to improve the Siri voice experience and to help Siri better understand commands and queries.

The contractors would hear private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, criminal dealings, sexual encounters, and other personal interactions where Siri had been activated, likely by accident.

A contractor that spoke to The Guardian in July said that “the regularity of accidental triggers on the watch is incredibly high,” and that some snippets were up to 30 seconds in length.  Employees in the Siri project are encouraged to report accidental activations, but not the actual content.

All of the allegations in the lawsuit were based on information that was included in the original The Guardian article.

As reported by Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said that the plaintiffs in the class-action case did not provide enough detail about the alleged recordings that Apple collected.

The Guardian article does not plausibly suggest that all Apple’s devices were subject to accidental triggers and review by third party contractors, much less that such interception always occurred in reasonably private settings. The article discusses frequency of accidental triggers primarily in relation to the Apple Watch and the HomePod speakers, neither of which are owned by the Plaintiffs.

Moreover, the article expressly states that only a “small portion” of daily ‌Siri‌ activations including were sent to contractors and that they included both deliberate and accidental activations. Finally, although the article describes private communications among the recordings sent to contractors, Plaintiffs allege no facts to suggest that their own private communications were intercepted by accidental triggers.

The judge in the case is allowing consumers involved in the lawsuit to revise and refile the lawsuit within 20 days, so further developments are possible.