Apple has told US lawmakers that its iPhones do not listen to users without their consent and do not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked the company if its devices were invading users' privacy.
Representatives Greg Walden, Marsha Blackburn, Gregg Harper and Robert Latta wrote to Apple's chief executive Tim Cook and Alphabet chief executive Larry Page in July, citing concerns about reports that smartphones could “collect ‘non-triggered’ audio data from users’ conversations near a smartphone in order to hear a ‘trigger’ phrase, such as ‘Okay Google’ or ‘Hey Siri.’”
In a letter to Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Apple said iPhones do not record audio while listening for Siri wakeup commands and Siri does not share spoken words. Apple said it requires users to explicitly approve microphone access and that apps must display a clear signal that they are listening.
The letters, in which lawmakers cited reports suggesting third-party applications had access to and used ‘non-triggered’ data without users' knowledge, followed congressional hearings in April into Facebook’s privacy practices, which included testimony by its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Alphabet did not respond to questions about whether it had replied to lawmakers. Apple declined to comment beyond its letter, which was seen by Reuters.
A spokeswoman for the Republican majority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said “both companies have been cooperative thus far. The Committee looks forward to reviewing and analyzing the responses as we consider next steps."
Apple wrote that it had removed apps from its App Store over privacy violations but declined to say whether it had ever banned a developer. It also said it was up to developers to notify users when an app was removed for privacy reasons.
"Apple does not and cannot monitor what developers do with the customer data they have collected, or prevent the onward transfer of that data, nor do we have the ability to ensure a developer's compliance with their own privacy policies or local law," Apple wrote.
The iPhone maker's App Store has generated US$100 billion in revenue for developers over the past decade. Apple told lawmakers in its letter that it rejected about 36,000 apps from among the 100,000 submitted each week for violations of its guidelines.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and David Shepardson in Washington, D.C.)