A federal judge in California allowed a lawsuit against Apple that alleges its voice assistant Siri violated user privacy to proceed on Thursday.
Reuters reported that District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that plaintiffs could move forward in trying to prove that Siri was routinely recording their conversations in private because of “accidental activations.” It also would allow plaintiffs an opportunity to prove that Apple disclosed the contents of these conversations with its third parties like its advertisers.
What started the lawsuit against the multi-trillion dollar company were numerous complaints from users who reported what they received targeted ads based on private conversations.
One user cited by Reuters alleges that Siri surreptitiously recorded a discussion with his doctor about a “brand name surgical treatment” that led to the receipt of ads for the treatment. Others complained that they were hit with ads for everything from Air Jordan sneakers to ones for the restaurant chain Olive Garden after their conversations were allegedly overheard by Siri.
Siri, the name for Apple’s voice assistant, is installed on operating systems for its products that include the Mac, iPhone and Apple TV.
Judge White allowed the class action lawsuit against Apple to be pursued for potential violations of the federal Wiretap Act, California privacy laws, and for breaching user contracts. However, he did rule against an unfair competition claim that was included in the lawsuit.
Claims accusing Siri and other voice assistants of violating users’ privacy are not new. In July 2019, a whistleblower inside Apple revealed that recordings are sent to Apple contractors, which have included sensitive conversations between doctors with their patients, couples having sex, and even drug deals. Apple acknowledged that these conversations were being recorded and later shared an iOS update that would let users delete voice records that the company stored on its servers.
The whistleblower later revealed himself as a former Apple contractor named Thomas le Bonniec. He went public with his identity in May 2020 because of what he described as a failure for Apple to face meaningful consequences for its violations. But the new lawsuit could be the one to hold Apple accountable.