Apple and Google meeting Irish lawmakers to discuss voice assistant privacy

“We are exploring this issue in terms of data protection and whether stronger transparency and legislation is needed in this area.”

What you need to know

  • Apple and Google are to appear before Irish lawmakers today (December 3) to discuss privacy concerns around voice-activated digital assistants.
  • The joint committee on communications, climate action, and environment wants to clarify how Apple and Google handle audio data.
  • Given Apple’s operations in the country, any change in law might hit the Cupertino company harder.

Apple and Google are both set to appear before Irish lawmakers to discuss privacy concerns surrounding voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant, today, December 3.

According to a report from Irish Legal News:

Internet giants Google and Apple will appear before an Oireachtas committee this afternoon to discuss privacy concerns surrounding their voice-activated digital assistants.

Concerns were raised earlier this year after it emerged that Apple had hired contractors in Ireland to listen to Siri audio recordings as part of a Siri grading program which sought to determine just how good Siri was at responding to requests. According to that report, outside contractors listened to more than 1,000 Siri recordings per shift, and there were countless instances of recordings “featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on.”

Today’s meeting will take place in Leinster House in front of an Oireachtas (the legislature of Ireland) committee. In advance of the meeting, committee chair Hildegarde Naughton said:

“There is growing concern about the recording of voices by these devices. If the microphone is always on in our homes, what data is being stored and who can listen to that data or who is it being shared with? What profiles are being created from the data collected by these devices and who is this information being shared with?

“Visitors that come into the home or unsuspecting children may also have their data collected. We are all vulnerable when we do not know what is happening to our own data. We are exploring this issue in terms of data protection and whether stronger transparency and legislation is needed in this area.”

The remarks raise an important question about our in-home assistants, namely visitors. Many people who buy a HomePod or a Google Assistant device may well be aware that they are “allowing” an always-on audio recording device into their home, but what about people who visit that home who maybe don’t want to have their conversations recorded (or don’t know it’s happening in the first place)? Whilst both Google and Apple are set to appear at the committee, given Apple’s operations in Cork, including work on Siri, any “stronger transparency or legislation” might make more of an impact on Apple than on its friendly neighbor Google.

Author: Stephen Warwick