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Apple Forced To Defend Siri, Accused Of Listening To Conversations

Apple has again been forced to defend the voice capabilities of their devices after US lawmakers demanded clarification on whether smart speakers listened to or recorded users.

The company insists the only way to activate voice recognition is by saying ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Okay Google’, to ‘trigger’ the devices.

US lawmakers wrote to Apple and Alphabet asking whether devices record or listen to users after concerns emerged from people and organisations about the functionality of voice devices.

Apple insists their iPhones should not be feared.

The firm told US lawmakers 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 the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy.

Last month, representatives Greg Walden, Marsha Blackburn, Gregg Harper and Robert Latta wrote to Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook citing concerns about reports that smartphones could ‘collect non-triggered audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone in order to hear a ‘trigger’ phrase, such as ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Siri’.

They also wrote to Alphabet Inc chief executive Larry Page at the same time.

In a letter to Walden, a US Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Apple said iPhones do not record audio while listening for Siri wakeup commands and Siri does not share spoken words.

Apple said it requires users to explicitly approve microphone access and that apps must display a clear signal that they are listening.

The letters, in which lawmakers cited reports suggesting third-party applications had access to and used ‘non-triggered’ data without users’ knowledge, followed congressional hearings in April into Facebook Inc’s privacy practices, which included testimony by its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Alphabet did not respond to questions about whether it had replied to lawmakers. Apple declined to comment beyond its letter, which was seen by Reuters.

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