Hey Siri, are you protecting me?


If you are like myself, you must have discovered the convenience and occasional enjoyment that talking to your phone can provide. I am not referring to making a phone call or aimlessly chatting at your devices like a crazy person, instead I mean making commands to our personal artificial intelligence Siri (or whatever other system non apple devices use). Being able to yell ‘Siri, put an alarm on for 8am’ before bed or asking for the weather in the morning, must have saved me multiple seconds of time on a daily basis. Upon reflection however, the ‘how’ of these functioning technologies becomes slighting alarming. To know the weather for example, requires the phone to know the location of where I am. While I appear lucky to be an Apple convert, because they aren’t selling off my data like other companies (see tweet below), I still want to know a bit more about the mysterious Siri.


Image: 015 of 365‘ by Yogesh Mhatre, CC (By 2.0)


The habits of people using Siri or one of its rival counterparts have found to be significantly influenced by environmental factors (Moorthy & Vu 2015). After research was undertaken, participants in the study were found to be more cautious about disclosing information through voice activated programs. This showed how people are still unaware about how the intricacies of the technology that can cause hesitations. Privacy was still the primary concern for users, as seen by the significantly amplified caution for using voice-activated programs in public. Another study by Humphreys (2005) further showed that privacy is a concern for mobile users. While using cell phones in public, different body language techniques were used to create private space such as the turning of the head, looking away and not making eye contact with others in the public or engaging in other activities in the appearance of being preoccupied.



Image: Phone Manners‘  by  Jellaluna, CC (By 2.0)

Not actually knowing if there were genuine fears and concerns about the Siri technology, I decided to perform some research to gain a better understanding of how the technology works.

The general premise of how it works is this; once you have spoken your phone sends those audio files to a remote server. These files are then translated into a text command that can be analysed and is finally fed back to your phone to create a response (Damopoulos et al 2013). While this is all through safe servers and a secure process, if someone were able to infiltrate this program… think of the access they would have. Asking Siri to call someone gives access to your contacts or asking for directions gives away your location.



Image: (Damopoulos et al 2013, fig. 9)

The above table shows how a hijacked Siri program could steal sensitive information such as your passwords (in a relatively more educated and specific manner than I ever could). Pretty much the take away is they redirect your voice messages and generate their own questions and response instead. The sad thing is that if I were trying to send an email and was asked to confirm my details, I wouldn’t have even questioned it…. well until now.


While there are many failsafe’s and protections in place to protect our information, it still doesn’t completely protect us from hacking (see tweet below). One of the wonders and benefits of technology is how it is rapidly changing and making the lives of its users easier. But for not only me but also yourself, please just be wary about what you say to your ‘friend’ Siri.


Damopoulos, D, Kambourakis, G, Anagnostopoulos, M, Gritzalis, S & Park, J 2013, ‘User privacy and modern mobile services: are they on the same path?’, Personal & Ubliquitous Computing, vol. 17, no. 7, pp. 1437-1448, doi: 10.1007/s00779-012-0579-1

Humphreys, L 2005, Cellphones in public: Social interactions in a wireless era, New media & society, vol. 7, no. 6,  810-833, doi: 10.1177/1461444805058164

Moorthy, A, & Vu, K 2015, ‘Privacy Concerns for Use of Voice Activated Personal Assistant in the Public Space’, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 307-335, Science Citation Index


Jellaluna 2011, Phone Manners, photograph, retrieved 28 August 2016, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/90859240@N00/5784376625/in/photolist-9P9rDt-dccScM-7xjuWJ-rCifXv-dbeJ4i-81JzpW-kP8hL1-brxwU8-pi8Z2B-nVtKGn-nJ9a-bsr77R-5gpWTz-or5GW3-oTintK-aDkfck-dCDCEf-rF2XS7-pRNmJ9-odTDK6-oHz2kH-oV45sA-gYPWeA-db5NoN-JJRDc-oHxcgf-dat3cP-dbXfUD-dat3qe-bnyECu-dbdvmy-FSMYmZ-5VSpsc-oSDUj1-qweiLS-eAF3ip-bA2A4x-6LxgBk-A5LcX-fgjNqQ-3QjPyX-buh8UR-qFY4Yr-8LP6xG-9n5fE9-cadkCj-dcuNQA-ncMnz2-dbdrwB-oHxdTU>,  CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Sean MacEntee 2012, siri, photograph, retrieved 28 August 2016, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/8070397213/in/photolist-di9TVx-dgPbsG-5LUyPg-5CC6sP-fpZ8XK-7hNggk-6AqvrP-axkfW5-r4DZdv-k3JuP-cT9yX3-cEa5QY-a7bXPM-hyF9Ln-98htXa-3T5Qaw-7fSiTv-93qrUL-6hF1tE-8soStg-6hAQyB-cEa6S5-9WXUwC-iFLRWP-dy1Ygm-5TG4AW-5TBJ9e-71mkCr-58wAAe-5iSDsd-5iSDhJ-aiUUcR-88q2WN-5iSDJo-96wkyw-p4o2V-5iNmMc-92od8X-axsBMW-2dJJ6c-77EUWC-cUgkZ5-nJsFc2-5iSDAS-htZqcr-6AwqUL-iSqatP-iDoSGH-a8HvBE-cEa76A>, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Yogesh Mhatre 2012, 015 of 365, photograph, retrieved 28 August 2016, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/hinkelstone/2435823037>, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic