Irish regulators question Apple’s practices after whistleblower goes public

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on May 22, 2020

Apple’s primary regulators in the European Union, Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), has said it was questioning Apple after a whistleblower went public alleging that the company listens to user recordings.

According to a Reuters report, whistleblower Thomas Le Bonniec wrote to European data protection regulators on May 20 calling for action over Apple’s practices in regard to a  programme that enabled the company to listen to users' recordings.

Le Bonniec went public with the letter that said: “It is worrying that Apple (and undoubtedly not just Apple) keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.”

“I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders,” he wrote in the letter as quoted by the Guardian

The 25-year-old whistleblower used to work as a subcontractor for Apple in its Cork offices. His job was to transcribe user requests in English and French until he left the same following ethical concerns over the work. 

Le Bonniec claimed that he had listened to “thousands of recordings” that were made from various Apple devices including iPhones, Apple Watches, or iPads through Siri without the user activating the service.  

The system recorded a lot of data of users, their relatives and children that included names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and private conversations, Le Bonniec told the Guardian.

Apple, at the request of Le Bonniec and his colleagues, had promised to change its “grading” programme, which enabled contractors and sub-contractors to listen in to users’ recordings, and only grade recordings from users who had actively opted for the practice. However, Le Bonniec had written to authorities demanding action against the company and holding it accountable for its years-long practice without the users’ knowledge. 

Apple’s Irish regulators have questioned the company over its practices. The DPC had said that they had probed the issue and had questioned the tech giant last summer. The company has since made some changes, Reuters reported. 

The DPC will follow up with Apple again following the release of Le Bonniec’s public statement, it said. 



Published on May 22, 2020

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