IBM Bans Apple's Siri at Work

The folks over at IBM are worried that Siri has the potential to leak corporate secrets to Apple. Why? Because everything you utter, from a basic calendar update to dictating an email outlining exactly how Watson's systems work, gets sent by Siri to a facility that analyzes the data and may keep it, too.

The word on IBM comes from the company's chief information office, Jeanette Horan, who helps mold digital security policies. That means schooling employees on proper tech etiquette, as well as deciding what programs and apps pose a threat. Dropbox already made the ban list, which Siri just found itself on, too.

Technology Review's Brian Bergstein reports:

Before an employee's own device can be used to access IBM networks, the IT department configures it so that its memory can be erased remotely if it is lost or stolen. The IT crew also disables public file-transfer programs like Apple's iCloud; instead, employees use an IBM-hosted version called MyMobileHub. IBM even turns off Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, on employees' iPhones. The company worries that the spoken queries might be stored somewhere.

Don't hit that panic button just yet. The idea of a voice-to-text app storing your queries may sound sinister, but it's the same kind of privacy concern you run afoul of every day on the Web. Google keeps your search data (which you can clear manually or wait until the search giant randomizes the data it keeps after nine months), cookies and tracers are keeping tabs on how you use sites and where you go next and pretty much every scrap of text you hit enter after is getting stored somewhere.

For you and me, how we use the Web thanks to that knowledge is up to us. For IBM, it could mean that Apple is culling valuable data from a veritable trove of dictated emails, texts and spoken requests and questions. This is compounded by a newly adopted policy at IBM which allows employees to bring their own smartphones and tablets to work, which is up to the employer but generally allowed today.

This from Wired's Robert McMillan:

It turns out that Horan is right to worry. In fact, Apple's iPhone Software License Agreement spells this out: "When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text," Apple says. Siri collects a bunch of other information — names of people from your address book and other unspecified user data, all to help Siri do a better job.

How long does Apple store all of this stuff, and who gets a look at it? Well, the company doesn't actually say. Again, from the user agreement: "By using Siri or Dictation, you agree and consent to Apple's and its subsidiaries' and agents' transmission, collection, maintenance, processing, and use of this information, including your voice input and User Data, to provide and improve Siri, Dictation, and other Apple products and services."

IBM, obviously, doesn't want its geeky secrets to "improve" Siri and other Apple products and services.

Still, imagine all the stuff that Siri probably knows. Apple's innocent little digital assistant could be the greatest spy ever.

Technology Review, via Wired

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