Former Apple contractor blows whistle again over non-enforcement of privacy violation allegations
Apple whistleblower Thomas le Bonniec has written to data protection authorities throughout Europe, suggesting that EU privacy laws are not being enforced against the iPhone-maker, or presumably other tech giants as well. At issue are interactions recorded without the biometric voice recognition-based activation of the company’s digital personal assistant, Siri.
Le Bonniec worked as an Apple contractor in Ireland, transcribing user interactions in English and French until the summer of 2019, when he quit in protest of what he considers unethical behavior, telling The Guardian at the time that the company operates in a “a moral and legal grey area.”
“We realise we have not been fully living up to our high ideals,” Apple said in a statement at the time.
In the letter, which has been published by The Register, the former contractor says that “big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations,” and accusing regulators of inaction, stating “Nothing has been done to verify if Apple actually stopped the programme. Some sources already confirmed to me that Apple has not.”
Le Bonniec admits in the letter that sharing the letter with the press and digital rights organizations breaches his Non-Disclosure Agreement with Apple, and says it “will be worth it only if this letter is followed by a proper investigation and action from your side.” He writes that numerous recordings were processed without their subjects being aware of it, and included discussions of private matters such as personal health and sexuality. The company also gathered users’ data in huge data sets to be used in other projects, le Bonniec alleges.
The letter is addressed to all national data protection authorities in the EU and European Free Trade Area, the European Data Protection Board, the European Data Protection Supervisor, and authorities in Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, and calls on them to take enforcement action against Apple.
The need for annotation to keep AI systems, and specifically speech recognition, performing effectively was noted as the controversy took off last year, but le Bonniec does not mention biometrics training data specifically in the letter.