Is Siri Spying On You?

Using Siri is like having a know-it-all friend you can carry around in your pocket. But, you might need to be concerned with what this “friend” knows about you or how it might use that information behind your back.

The virtual personal assistant feature of Apple’s iPhone 4S enables you to interact conversationally with the smartphone. Just watch some of the recent commercials featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Zooey Deschanel, or John Malkovich for examples of the sort of banter Siri is capable of.

To facilitate and improve the functionality of Siri, though, Apple retains the queries for some undefined period of time. For some--like IBM which has banned the use of Siri--Apple’s handling of Siri data represents potential security and privacy concerns.

Apple doesn’t hide the fact that your “conversations” with Siri are saved for posterity. The iPhone Software License Agreement states, “When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text and, for Siri, to also process your requests.”

Of course, the agreement also goes on to say that other information is sent to Apple as well, such as your name, nickname, the songs in your music collection, and the names and relationships of your contact database. It explains, “All of this data is used to help Siri and Dictation understand you better and recognize what you say.”

So, should you be worried that Siri is spying on you? Is Apple’s handling of Siri queries a big enough risk that you should follow in IBM’s footsteps and cease using the virtual personal assistant feature altogether? In a word, no.

Using query data to “learn” and improve the service is not new, and it’s not unique to Apple. Google maintains a similar policy of collecting and storing data in order to refine and improve its search capabilities. Is IBM also going to ban Web searches using Google? Not likely.

As advanced as Siri is when it comes to understanding conversational phrases and translating them to specific tasks or searchable queries, there’s plenty of room for improvement. By gathering and analyzing the cumulative whole of Siri input and output, Apple can refine the service so that it will be able to comprehend and respond to an increasingly wide range of conversational requests.

Just as with the “Do Not Track” issue, there is a trade off between privacy and functionality. The more Apple, or Google, or other websites or services can monitor surfing habits and online activities, the more accurately it can target your interests and deliver a more customized experience.

Siri isn’t spying on you. It’s just learning from you.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of TechHive. ]

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