It was 2011 when Apple introduced the world to Siri, the helpful assistant on the iPhone who we all spent weeks asking fun questions like “What is your favourite movie?” and “Can you tell me a joke?”. Alexa joined the ranks in 2014 with Google Assistant right in tow. It was immediately obvious then that these new clever voice assistants were now to here to stay to help us with our busy lives. The cries across the world of “OK Google” or “Alexa!” are ringing out continuously, but how trustworthy are Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and any of the tech products that offer this capability when it comes to our privacy?
It says it doesn’t remember anything you say before it’s activated by its voice command. Only then will it send your data to Apple servers for voice recognition. This data is retained for up to 2 years.
As well as listening to you, to ensure you get the most appropriate response Apple does not completely anonymise your data, leaving in things like location. This data recording is kept for up to six months, after which it could be stripped of any personal identifier and kept for two additional years.
Does it stop there? No. Some small selection of recordings could be stored for longer than two years to assist the ongoing improvements. This means that Voice data will be monitored by Apple contractors to assess if the Siri responses are of sufficient quality, and the same will be for Google and Amazon, for as long as they see fit.
How long do Google Assistant and Alexa retain their voice transcripts? Indefinitely until you delete them. You heard that right, they never delete your voice recordings, unless you ask them to. Unfortunately, there have been documented cases where Amazon fail to delete the voice recordings even it has been requested by the user. This obviously poses a huge privacy risk, especially when you are working around your service users.
Knowing this, it is also important to note that it is possible the device can accidently be activated and portions of conversations can and inevit
ably will be recorded and retained without the knowledge of other individuals present.
Here are your options you should consider when using your Phone/Smart Device:
1. Turn off the device.
2. Work from a room without a smart device/away from the device.
3. Press the Mute button on the device which will stop actively listening. This is a good option if you need the device for practical reasons such as listening to music.
4. Disable the “Hey (X)” command in settings.
5. Disable WIFI/Mobile Data.
Lastly, it would also be wise to log into your Amazon, Google and Apple accounts to opt-out of any manual voice recordings where possible and frequently request the manual deletion of all your recorded voice notes. The safest thing to do is to avoid having a phone anywhere near anything that needs to be private, or to have WIFI/Cell data disabled at the very least.
Jeff Pullen, Kafico Information Security Lead