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Your iPhone may have been recording your Siri chats without permission

a photo of the iPhone 13 Pro
(Image credit: Future)

A privacy bug that could have sent your Siri interactions back to Apple for review even if you opted out was squashed by the company in December, ZDNet (opens in new tab) has revealed.

The site noticed that installing the iOS 15.4 beta would prompt the question as to whether a user wants to help improve Siri by allowing Apple to review recordings afresh, and Apple confirmed that this was due to an earlier bug.

Said bug was originally introduced with iOS 15 in September and meant that chats with Siri could be recorded and shared with Apple even if permission had been explicitly denied in the settings. This was spotted and fixed with the rollout of iOS 15.2 in December, with the company turning off the setting for “many” Siri users at the same time.

“With iOS 15.2, we turned off the Improve Siri & Dictation setting for many Siri users while we fixed a bug introduced with iOS 15,” Apple said in a statement to the site. “This bug inadvertently enabled the setting for a small portion of devices. Since identifying the bug, we stopped reviewing and are deleting audio received from all affected devices.”

On the surface of things, that feels like a reassuring statement, but the more you look at it, the more vague it feels. If it affected a “small portion of devices” does that mean that only a subsection of those who opted out were impacted, or that most people allow their data to be shared so it’s not a big deal? 

Plus, of course, if you care enough about data privacy to opt out of sharing with Apple, then hearing that your recordings have been deleted now is of little comfort when they might already have been listened to. 

And while most fair-minded people can accept that bugs can be introduced by mistake, it’s alarming that we’re only finding out about it now, when Apple has been aware of the issue since at least December. That feels significant given the lengths Apple goes to to promote its privacy credentials

The long and short of it is that if you’re a privacy-conscious Siri user, you should ensure that your device is updated to iOS 15.2 as soon as possible. And make sure you opt out afresh when iOS 15.4 is out of beta.

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.