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Apple says it respects privacy, Siri doesn’t ‘listen’ to users in response to US Congress

Apple Inc told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that its iPhones do not listen to users without their consent and do not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked in July the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy.

In July, a Congressional Committee sent letters to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page asking how much access to consumer data the two companies give to third parties and to what extent the companies’ own devices collect location and audio data. The committee expressed concerns about reports that smartphones could collect audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone while the phone listened in for ‘trigger’ phrase, such as ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Siri.’

The committee’s letters to the tech giants came after Congressional hearings in April into Facebook Inc’s privacy practices, which included CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.

Apple has now responded saying that it collects limited user data as practice. “Apple does not and cannot monitor what developers do with the customer data they have collected, or prevent the onward transfer of that data, nor do we have the ability to ensure a developer’s compliance with their own privacy policies or local law,” the company wrote in its response.

Key takeaways from Apple responses

—Apple said their iPhones collect and send limited information about Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular towers in an encrypted format provided location services are turned on. It said the company does not use any data for targeted advertising.
—Apple’s iOS system encrypts location information and doesn’t associate that information with any name or Apple ID.
—Apple said the company doesn’t use the microphone on iPhones to listen to customers and it doesn’t share data from its voice assistant Siri with third parties.

Apple reiterated that it believes in the privacy of its users. “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data,” Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal government affairs, wrote in the company’s response. “When we do collect data, we’re transparent about it and work to disassociate it from the user.”

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“The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertising,” the letter reads.

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