Remember this about Apple's Siri: She's got a really good memory

Remember when you asked Siri the other day for the address of that massage parlor up in the Tenderloin?

And how yesterday you queried her for information about hair plugs?

And how about that time you practically begged her to rustle up a few hangover recipes?

Well, Apple remembers all those requests, too. In fact, thanks to some prodding by the American Civil Liberties Union and Wired, we now know that Apple retains each and every one of those little dictated dialogs you’ve enjoyed with your iPhone’s personal assistant. And it holds on to the data for as long as two years, no matter how personal it is or how embarrassing it might be if anyone were to ever find out about some of your, well, interests.

The good news: Apple uses anonymized user ID numbers to accompany each recording, which seemingly protects you and your personal information from being misused.

After an ACLU lawyer started asking pesky questions of the Cupertino tech giant to learn what it does with all the pesky questions we’re constantly bombarding Siri with, Wired jumped on the case.

Here’s the way Wired explained what it learned when it called an Apple spokesman for comment:

Apple generates a random numbers to represent the user and it associates the voice files with that number. This number — not your Apple user ID or email address — represents you as far as Siri’s back-end voice analysis system is concerned.

Once the voice recording is six months old, Apple “disassociates” your user number from the clip, deleting the number from the voice file. But it keeps these disassociated files for up to 18 more months for testing and product improvement purposes.

Why don’t Apple and Siri simply dump the data, once our questions have been answered, and move on? Because, says the company, by asking Siri questions we’re helping in our own way to “train’’ her to be smarter and better at her job. Retaining the recorded Q&As helps Apple with testing and product improvement. Which is kind of a win-win for all of us, no?

Besides, it really shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Apple’s holding on to your little chats with Siri. I mean, think about all those Google searches you do every day. You think Google’s gonna just toss that priceless pile of personal data it’s collected from you and billions of other searchers around the world? Of course not. Because the better Google can target future ads based on your past queries, the more money Google makes.

So calm down. Neither your Apple ID nor your email address will ever be directly linked to your sudden curiosity about curing a bad gambling addiction. Or whatever else you’ve been asking Siri about lately.

 

 

 

Patrick May Patrick May (316 Posts)

With more than 30 years on the front line of daily American journalism, I'm currently a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News, covering Apple and writing people-centric business stories from Silicon Valley.