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Apple Still 'Wiretapping' Users Without Facing Consequences, Claims Whistleblower

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Thomas le Bonniec, the whistleblower who brought to light Apple's data collection and grading programme with Siri, says it is not being investigated enough.

Apple has a reputation for generally paying more attention to user privacy than many of its competitors. However, according to the whistleblower that brought to light the contractual Siri transcription gaffe from last year, Apple is not quite being held accountable enough for what it is doing with user data. In an attempt to do this, Thomas le Bonniec has written to all of Europe's data protection regulators, alleging that Apple "continues their massive collection of data" — something that is in violation of fundamental human rights, as well as Europe's data protection laws.

In his letter, which was viewed and reported by The Guardian, le Bonniec has accused companies like Apple for "wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world." On this note, he has further called for the European regulators to actively investigative Apple's dealings with user data, which according to him have not been investigated enough.

Excerpts of le Bonniec's letter, which has been published by The Guardian, says:

I listened to hundreds of recordings every day, from various Apple devices (eg. iPhones, Apple Watches, or iPads). These recordings were often taken outside of any activation of Siri, eg in the context of an actual intention from the user to activate it for a request. These processings were made without users being aware of it, and were gathered into datasets to correct the transcription of the recording made by the device. The recordings were not limited to the users of Apple devices, but also involved relatives, children, friends, colleagues, and whoever could be recorded by the device. The system recorded everything: names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations. I heard people talking about their cancer, referring to dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, politics, school, relationships, or drugs with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever. These practices are clearly at odds with the company’s ‘privacy-driven’ policies and should be urgently investigated by data protection authorities and Privacy watchdogs. With the current statement, I want to bring this issue to your attention, and also offer my cooperation to provide any element substantiating these facts. Although this case has already gone public, Apple has not been subject to any kind of investigation to the best of my knowledge.

Apple has typically had a far stronger reputation in terms of data collection and privacy, in comparison to rivals such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. In 2019, however, its general privacy reputation was disrupted when le Bonniec anonymously brought to light Apple's contractual programme, which employed third party human sub-contractors across the world to listen in on snippets of real world conversations from unsuspecting users, all in an attempt to "improve" Siri functionality.

Ever since it was brought to light, Apple promptly issued an apology for such a practice, that too without adequately informing its users. It then stated that the Siri transcription review programme was moved in-house, which adds accountability and made sure that no user remained identifiable through these recordings.

Now, it remains to be seen if investigations into the matter are renewed based on le Bonniec's letter, and if so, what repercussions would the brand require to face.