Apple introduced some smart new camera and Siri features in its new iPhones this week, but they came along with some privacy concerns.
Various articles have been pointing out that Apple’s new “Hey Siri” feature — which allows you to activate Siri at any time by saying that phrase — means that the iPhone 6S’ microphone has to be on at all times. Likewise, articles have noted that Apple’s new Live Photos feature — which captures just over a second of video before and after every photo you take — requires that the camera, when active, continually record your audio and video. Both features are able to be deactivated, but in order to make full use of the phone, it’s expected that you’ll have them on.
In a number of statements to TechCrunch, Apple is trying to clear up the concerns that people have around these features. For Siri, Apple says that all captured audio is processed locally. It isn’t until your phone actually activates Siri that it’ll begin sending audio off to Apple, which is what has always happened when Siri interprets (or attempts to interpret) your speech. “In no case is the device recording what the user says or sending that information to Apple before the feature is triggered,” Apple tells TechCrunch. Otherwise, it sounds as though the iPhone 6S will only store a few seconds of sound at a time and will continually write over — and therefore, theoretically, delete — what has been captured before it.
There’s very natural reason to be concerned about the fact that the iPhone 6S actively supports the ability to have — not to mention encourages the use of — an always-on and recording microphone. The privacy conscious may well not be comfortable with that. But the concern is not new, either. We’ve seen always-on voice assistant features in Android phones for a couple years now, typically with the same privacy models. Basically, if you’re using a modern Android phone, it’s likely doing much the same thing as what Siri is doing on the new iPhone.
As for Live Photos, Apple tells TechCrunch much the same thing. Though the camera and microphone are constantly recording, nothing is saved until you actually take a photo — otherwise, it’ll seemingly just be overwritten and vanish. “The pre-captured images are not saved to the user’s device nor are they sent off the device,” Apple tells TechCrunch.
Apple has made a big deal about trying to be the company in Silicon Valley that cares about your privacy, so it makes sense to see it out there and trying to address these concerns. For the most part, these are pretty common sense answers paired with pretty expected behaviors. And really, they’re not so bad — that is, so long as everything the iPhone captures actually does stay local to the device, and so long as that data is actually deleted unless you specifically want it saved. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that even privacy policies set with seemingly good intentions can fail.