When iPhone 4S first came out people raved about the new feature: Siri. Everyone wanted to try it out by asking questions ranging from those that prompted ridiculous responses to those that were practical, such as adding calendar events or finding GPS directions. What no one realizes is that Siri (well, Apple really…) is able to build a profile of their users based off of the queries made. Siri can essentially know who you are, assuming that you ask legitimate questions. Personally, I had never thought about the actual data implications of these simple tasks until reading this intriguing article: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2013/04/apple-remembers-where-you-wanted-to-get-drunk-for-up-to-2-years/.
You may be surprised by the title: “Apple Remembers Where You Wanted to Get Drunk For Up To 2 Years.” I know I was caught off guard by this title, but it’s true. If you ask Siri for bars in the area, Apple then has this data, which they call “anonymized.” The article explains that any request for Siri is first processed by Apple servers, and then sent back with a response via Google, Yelp, or other search engines. Apple essentially intercepts the data, legally as per their user agreement, and uses it to understand their users better and improve Siri to answer questions that it was previously incapable of responding to. The data is considered to be “anonymized” because Apple does not connect your Apple ID to the request, but all requests from a single device are assigned a particular number. It may concern users that their Siri requests can be traced back to their phone, even all of the “joke requests” that everyone is bound to try out when they first get an iPhone 4S.
While most people may not disclose more sensitive information via cellphone, Apple has been toying with the idea of integrating Siri into its operating system OS X. The article points out that users may be more likely to make more sensitive requests on a computer where they perceive their information to be “safer” even though it would still be treated the same way.
This article raises a privacy issue that many users are not even aware of because few people ever read the user agreements of any product or service. The company can then clear themselves from blame by referring to the fine print of their user agreements, which I find to be somewhat unfair. Many people think that important privacy issues should be made very clear to users, but Apple’s incentive to not allow users to opt out of this “data interception” is the useful data that they receive from the Siri requests. Even though there are joke requests often, many times the information can help Apple improve Siri’s service which users generally appreciate.
Our class discussion on the use of data and privacy directly relates to Apple’s Siri service. Companies’ success depends on their ability to listen to their customers, either directly or indirectly through data analysis. In Harrah’s case, they used a Total Rewards card to keep track of every transaction their customers made, including visits, hotel stays, slot machine usage, and meals. Their system imposes less of a threat to privacy because it does not include personal information, which Siri may be given. Many people do not realize the information they provide to Siri by making certain queries, and many people may not care, especially when they believe it will improve the functionality of the product or service. For some, though, privacy is valued more than improving the service and it is a difficult balance to find. What do you think?