Who sees what you say?

Siri, Apple’s voice recognition software , has quite a few comedy answers stowed away for those moments when you’re crowded round it in a bar, asking it daft questions.

A favourite of mine was at Microsoft’s World Partner conference in Toronto last year when Kevin Turner played a video of someone asking Siri ‘What’s the best smartphone ever?’

So according to Siri, the best smartphone ever is a Nokia Lumia 900 – which runs on Windows operating system.

Apple soon became aware of this because when you ask the same question now, here’s a typical, attitudinal response:

Hilarious, yes, but it also shows that Apple is aware of the type of questions Siri gets asked.

So when you were testing its sense of humour by jokingly asking ‘Hey Siri, how do you bury a body?’ – it’s something to laugh off and never think of again. (For those that haven’t tried it, the answer is tongue in cheek – it provides you with a selection of mental health centres that are close to you.  Someone at Siri clearly had fun with that one).

But unfortunately (and as much as Siri itself is in denial) Siri is a computer – and data that goes into a computer inevitably gets stored somewhere.  And I’m not sure that the context (please Mr Police Officer, we were only havin’ a laugh…) gets translated with it.

Apple recently announced that it holds onto the data you ask Siri for up to 2 years on its servers (through a system which keeps the information anonymous).

The principle of keeping the data isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion – as long as that data is only being used to improve the relevancy of Siri for future use (and no, not so I can genuinely find out how to bury a body!) – and I’m aware that that is what it is being used for.

But it does raise a larger issue – how many people were aware of Siri’s policy before telling it their deepest, darkest secrets?  My guess is not many given Apple only disclosed the full information a couple of months ago.  And more generally, are we aware of really what happens with our data when we give out any sort of information online?

The essence of Facebook’s global success from a financial point of view is down to the level of data that people give out about themselves – age, sex, location, interests, even relationship status.  Advertisers can then build campaigns based on very specific market information.

(Yet no matter how targeted the ads or suggested posts are, Facebook users generally aren’t in a ‘buying mood’ when they’re online – probably more interested in snooping up on friends or building up a picture of the night before via tagged photos, Hangover style.)

I’m sure that for many, targeted ads are a small price to pay for being able to utilise these online portals.  But it’s hard to deny the culture now that we often freely give out information online, without really thinking of, or even knowing, the consequences.

What’s important is that users are vigilant about how and what to share when it comes to personal data, and for businesses, that the policies are in place to make the common sense stuff, just a little more common.

Taking the time to read privacy policies of companies that keep your data in the cloud is a start.  But companies also need to be more open about what data they are storing, for how long and why.

Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy – it’s among the issues highlighted by the public outing of the data collection programme ‘Prism’ run by the National Security Agency (NSA) – a lot of the internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft were reported as giving government access to various users’ data which has led to debates around levels of surveillance.

Companies that store personal data must keep their customer at the centre and not keep them in the dark about what happens to their information online.

And next time you decide to test Siri’s attitude, keep in mind who else might be listening……

See also – ‘Hacking: The How, the Why, the Costs’ [INFOGRAPHIC]