Many Americans are giving up more than privacy to social media and other online companies. Many of us have become complacent about clicking away our personal privacy for the opportunity to engage in communications with others that are open to the world to view. Some people still believe that companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon are only gathering our shopping and purchasing information. They also believe that when these companies gather that information, it is only used in their programming to “create a better shopping experience.”
Unfortunately, this kind of information gathering is merely the tip of the iceberg of the invading your privacy. We have long known that Google can track every click we make online — the searches we perform, the websites we visit, the pages we read, the purchases we make, and more. Google is not alone in this activity.
In June, I wrote a post about the use of Alexa to make permanent recordings of children’s voices without their knowledge or their parents’ knowledge (https://altizerlaw.com/childrens-privacy-compromised/). Parents and grandparents may want to read that post.
In the last week, two new lawsuits have been filed or continued regarding unauthorized information gathering and recording of website users.
First, Apple is being sued over allegations that the privacy of Siri users was violated when human reviewers listened to customer recordings. Apple has said it would stop the program in which company contractors listen to a small portion of Siri inputs to improve the quality of the voice recognition capabilities. Last year, similar steps were taken by Amazon and Google (Alphabet) in response to reports that contractors were hearing private information.
Bloomberg reported this year that Apple has a team of people that listen to select Siri recordings. The Guardian newspaper (UK) reported that Apple contractors regularly listened to recordings without the knowledge of the people recorded. These unauthorized listening and recording activities included private medical information, drug deals and sexual encounters, and more. The Guardian attributed the information to an unidentified whistle-blower.
Apple’s user agreement allows the company to record users when they activate Siri with the “Hey Siri” command. The Guardian’s source claims that Siri can be “activated” by nearly anything, including the sound of a zipper or even a user raising his arm.
The lawsuit also accuses Apple of lying to Congress. It is alleged that Apple lied in written answers to questions about the company’s privacy policies. When asked if their iPhone devices have “the capability to listen to consumers without a clear, unambiguous audio trigger,” Apple’s response was, “iPhone doesn’t listen to consumers except to recognize the clear, unambiguous audio trigger “Hey Siri.”
CASE Information: Lopez v. Apple Inc., 5:19-cv-04577, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
The second case in the news this month is a potentially massive action against Facebook’s facial recognition capability and use. What makes this such a huge case is that Facebook never undid a ruling that allows its users to band together as a class in a lawsuit that accuses Facebook of gathering and storing biometric data without consent. This could leave Facebook liable for damages that could cost billions of dollars.
Last week, the federal appeals court in San Francisco denied Facebook’s request to block the suit from continuing as a class action. The Illinois Biometric Information privacy Act of 2008 authorizes fines of $1,000 to $5,000 each time a person’s image is used without consent. A Facebook feature (launched in 2010) enables users to identify people they recognize in pictures using a tool that automatically matches names and faces for pictures uploaded to the site.
CASE Information: Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, 3:15-cv-03747, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). The appeals court case is Patel v. Facebook, 18-15982, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
An interesting overview of Right to Privacy laws and cases may be found here: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/rightofprivacy.html