Is Siri spying on me? Emmy Award-winning columnist finds suspicious monitoring of her activities on iPad

  • Jennifer Jolly who is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist noticed suspicious activities on her iPad

  • She said her iPad has shifted to Spanish ads after conversations at her home in Spanish

  • When she talked to security experts, they revealed what could have happened to her device

Many Apple users earlier raised concerns over the virtual assistant Siri. Some complained that the system software is recording whatever they are speaking at home, amounting to privacy violation. However, in 2018 US House Energy and Commerce Committee also sent a sent letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook concerning the company's privacy policy over such recordings.

But nothing has changed ever since. Now, an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist, Jennifer Jolly, raised alarm that her iPad has been showing Spanish commercials though she never changed the language settings or watch any show in Spanish or done any kind of internet activity in Spanish.

What happened to Jennifer Jolly's Apple device?

Jennifer Jolly
Jennifer Jolly Wikipedia

In her column published in USA Today, Jennifer Jolly revealed the suspicious activities of the Apple system. She mentioned that while watching TV shows and movies on her iPad, recently she noticed that her device is showing commercials in Spanish, even though she did not make any changes in the settings. In a Twitter post, she clearly stated that "My iPad has shifted to Spanish ads after conversations in my home."

It should be mentioned that the columnist has moved to a Spanish-speaking area of Oakland in California recently along with her husband. But it is her husband who speaks Spanish and was carrying out his business on a daily basis with contractors in the new house, within the radius of the iPad. She said that "Could this timing and sudden sprinkling of Spanish commercials for insurance, seatbelt safety, and affordable college degrees be mere coincidence? Or was it a clear sign of location-based tracking? With Siri voice-assistance active, is my gadget, or the TV apps on it, specifically working to better predict my wants and needs – and providing Spanish speaking commercials – to be more 'helpful?'"

The voice assistance issues

Even though along with Siri when Amazon's Alexa also came under scrutiny for its voice recording acts, many users took the issue to social media and raised their concerns over privacy violation. In response, these companies stated that they do record conversations to make their product better and "help users."

The co-founder of a Cleveland-based cybersecurity firm Cyprus Lake, Matthew Crowley said that technically Apple and Android apps can listen to user's conversations but doing it "on a large scale hasn't been proven."

In 2019, Apple acknowledged the issue and said, "We believe privacy is a fundamental human right." They mentioned that the Siri's recordings will be erased and stopped all the human contractors hired to listen to the recordings as well as it would allow the users to delete the Siri's recordings too.

As per Apple's newsroom post, by default, the company will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. They decided to use computer-generated transcripts to improve the functionality of Siri. The post also included that the users who want to opt-in to the Siri grading program can send their sample requests for evaluation and improvement of Siri.

Apple Siri
Apple Siri Reuters

Tracking user details

As per the security expert Crowley, there are many applications which can track a user's location, internet surfing, credit card purchases, and also could have access to photos and notes. "Considering they can harvest words off of your pictures, correlate other faces, and access contacts to your devices, these data brokers can put all of this information together to create a full profile of who you are," said the expert.

After the detection of the suspicious iPad activities, when Jennifer discussed it with David Choffnes, an associate professor of Computer and Information Science, he said that the gadget is unlikely to be active listening to the conversation. Nonetheless, he did rule out the fact that "They aren't (enabling the collection of) millions of data points to know who you are, where you live, what stores you shop at, where your kids go to school, and just about everything else."

Back home, the columnist quickly deleted and reinstalled apps like Bravo and Hulu, as well as set up the router in the new house. Soon she stopped getting commercials in other languages. Jennifer also stopped clicking on the "Accept" button every time a web page pops up.

Lastly, Choffnes mentioned that "the ability for companies to harvest all of this information about us, with lighting speed, is hard enough to wrap our heads around," but the question is whether they are doing it to sell products alone. That is a billion-dollar question, said Choffnes emphatically.

Related topics : Cybersecurity