Lawsuits Accuse Siri, Alexa, and Google of Listening When They’re Not Supposed To
“Tech companies have long encouraged putting listening devices in homes and pockets…” reports the Washington Post. “But some are growing concerned that these devices are recording even when they’re not supposed to — and they’re taking their fears to the courts.” (Alternate URLs here and here.)

On Thursday, a judge ruled that Apple will have to continue fighting a lawsuit brought by users in federal court in California, alleging that the company’s voice assistant Siri has improperly recorded private conversations… [H]e ruled that the plaintiffs, who are trying to make the suit a class action case, could continue pursuing claims that Siri turned on unprompted and recorded conversations that it shouldn’t have and passed the data along to third parties, therefore violating user privacy. The case is one of several that have been brought against Apple, Google and Amazon that involve allegations of violation of privacy by voice assistants…

The voice assistants are supposed to turn on when prompted — saying “Hey, Siri,” for example — but the lawsuit alleges that plaintiffs saw their devices activate even when they didn’t call out the wake word. That conversation was recorded without their consent and the information was then used to target advertisements toward them and sent on to third-party contractors to review, they allege… The lawsuits ask the companies to contend with what they do once they hear something they weren’t intended to. Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director of the ACLU of California, said the suits are a sign that people are realizing how much information the voice technology is collecting.

“I think this lawsuit is part of people finally starting to realize that Siri doesn’t work for us, it works for Apple,” she said.

An Amazon spokesperson told the Post only a “small fraction” of audio is manually reviewed, and users can opt-out of those reviews or manage their recordings. Apple told the Post that isn’t selling its Siri recordings, and that its recordings are not associated with an “identifiable individual.” And Google pointed out that they don’t retain audio recordings by default “and make it easy to manage your privacy preferences.”

But there’s still concerns. “A Washington Post investigation in 2019 found that Amazon kept a copy of everything Alexa records after it thinks it hears its name — even if users didn’t realize,” the Post adds. In a 2019 video, Post reporter Geoffrey A. Fowler even spliced together all of Amazon’s recordings of his voice, into a spoken-word anthem titled “Your voice now belongs to Amazon. “Eavesdropping is an invasion,” Fowler argues in the video, adding that Amazon “is putting its profits over our privacy. It’s also a sign of a bold data grab that’s going on in our increasingly connected homes.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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