Wiping Away Your Siri ‘Fingerprint’
Even in an age of vanishing privacy, people using Apple’s digital assistant Siri share a distinct concern. Recordings of their actual voices, asking questions that might be personal, travel over the Internet to a remote Apple server for processing. Then they remain stored there; Apple won’t say for how long.
That voice recording, unlike most of the data produced by smart phones and other computers, is an actual biometric identifier. A voiceprint—if disclosed by accident, hack, or subpoena—can be linked to a specific person. And with the current boom in speech recognition apps, Apple isn’t the only one amassing such data.
There may be a way to keep this identifier more private. Researchers say Apple and others developing voice recognition applications like Siri could do part of the data processing right on the phone. Then, instead of sending out the full recording, they could transmit specific information that is harder to definitively link to an individual.
“Maybe anything that IDs you should stay on the phone,” says Prem Natarajan, executive vice president at Raytheon BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a major center for speech recognition research. He says it might be wiser for Apple to “transmit features from speech—and not the speech itself.”