“Siri, Who am I?”

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?


6 thoughts on ““Siri, Who am I?”

  1. Nice blog post! I am personally not a big fan of Siri. Every time I try to use it, I always fail to get her to do what I want to. Maybe it is because I have an accent. Nevertheless, that does not explain why we can´t communicate with each other even when I use it in Spanish. Thus, I wanted to check how many people actually used Siri to assess the possible magnitude of the consequences explained in your blog post. I was impressed with the number: 87% of iPhone holders. That´s a lot of evidence there. Nevertheless, I do not see it as a possible threat. I am pretty sure Apple knows about suits of invasion of privacy. I am also confident that Apple knows that what I just mentioned is the consequence of the release of this information. Thus, I do not see them releasig this information even if the prohibition of its release is not clearly stated in the agreement.

  2. Great post! It amazes me to see the different types of data that companies collect without the public even realizing. I never thought that the questions that people ask Siri could be of any use to a company. I think it is resourceful of them to use this information to refine Siri, but there is one issue in my opinion. Way too many people ask Siri “joke” questions for the data collection to be accurate. I can speak for myself that the few times that I have used Siri, it was for the purpose of amusement.

  3. This is a very interesting post.although i’m not and Iphone user, I prefer the windows 8 phone, i have used siri on other phones once or twice. This relates perfectly our recent class discussions on the increasing use of user created data by larger corporations. This also connects to the ideas that were presented to us in the lecture on It security. It asks the questions are we willing to decrease security in order to increase the value of certain services and as this blog post focused on, siri. Although i do not have this option on my phone i’m not sure how comfortable i am with my information being saved by apple whether it is attached to my name and profile or not. This poses a dilemma faced by many companies such as Facebook and other social media that ask people to divulge a plethora of incredibly personal information. It will be interesting to see if people are willing to make these sacrifices as these technologies begin to ask for more and more information in order to offer better service.

  4. Great post! I think this topic is very interesting because there are many privacy issues related to our use of cellphones and other devices that we are not aware of. This reminds me of Professor Kane’s example of how we can look up on google or other search engines who they think we are based on our searches and webpage visits. With all these new technologies that make things such as finding GPS results or asking the internet information easily, we have to understand that this comes with less privacy. For example, Facebook continues to decrease the amount of privacy on our pages. It is scary to think that all the devices we use track everything we do and say for an extended period of time. Things we think are only temporary are indeed permanent on the internet. After listening to our guest lecturer on security, it is alarming how much people can find out about you on the internet and what they can do with that information. This example of siri is a reminder that what we say and do on the internet cannot be taken lightly. I believe that this intrusion of privacy will only get worse as technology expands.

  5. This was an awesome post because it has a lot to do with the things that we have been discussing in class like the Netflix data that they use to better their service. Although it isn’t necessarily fair for Apple to not make the privacy statement clear, those worried about it most likely can find it and for the rest of us, if it helps improve the service. It makes me wonder if they will ever utilize this data to team up with facilities. Like Netflix leverages the film companies and their is mutual benefit, I wonder if Apple could do something similar? Could they recommend certain restaurants and bars in the area for an incentive to both? This obviously is much more difficult because it is on a much more local scale but it is an interesting idea to think of. I really liked this post because it applied a big issue of the time, privacy, to a service that so many people use and yet would not know the privacy issues and repercussions involved. This is a great post!

  6. As a proud dumb phone user, I remember the first time I experimented with Siri…in my sociology core class last year first semester. We asked Siri where the nearest planned parenthood was located. After reading this article, I wonder, does Siri think that the owner of this phone is/was sexually active or pregnant and now has a child? After a little more reflection, I remembered the data software of other companies, Harrah, Netflix, Target, etc. These companies use the activities of its users to recommend other products that they believe their customer would be interested in based on the data that has been collected using the software. Remember the story of the man who yelled at Target because they sent his teenage daughter prenatal care coupons? I remember seeing a commercial saying that Gmail uses people’s email to choose which advertisements to show to the specific customer. While I like my privacy, not that I have Siri to invade in mine, I believe that Apple is not necessarily overstepping any boundaries on privacy. Sure, it’s a little creepy especially since Siri can talk to you, but if other companies can use software to keep data on their customers, why can’t Apple and Siri?

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