Three years ago, Apple looked at letting users use Siri to make purchases for apps and services, similar to how users could use Amazon's Alexa to place orders online, but engineers scrapped the idea after privacy concerns, according to a new report from The Information. .
The noteworthy point of the report, the information reveals that in 2019, Apple explored the possibility of allowing users to use Siri to make purchases, but then, the responsible team had to abort the idea due to privacy concerns in the first place, the report said:
Some of Apple's proposed features never see the light of day due to privacy restrictions. In 2019, employees discovered if a customer could use Siri to buy apps and other online services using their voice, similar to the way Amazon customers buy products with Alexa. According to a person with direct knowledge of the project, work has been halted in part due to strict privacy rules that prevented Siri from associating someone's Apple ID with their voice request. That person said Apple's media product team behind the project couldn't find an alternative way to reliably authenticate users in order to bill them.
One such innovative approach that Apple engineers came up with is differential privacy, which was first demonstrated by Craig Federigi at WWDC 2016. In a technical overview of the report, Apple describes its implementation of differential privacy as enabling it to “get to know the user community.” without identifying individuals. Differential Privacy changes the information that is shared with Apple before it leaves a user’s device so that Apple can never reproduce the real data.”
Even with differential privacy, and Apple's attempt to collect as much user data as possible without making it traceable to specific users, engineers remain concerned and feel limited in what they can and cannot do, according to the report:
Despite these efforts, former Apple employees have said that Differential Privacy and other attempts to get around customer data limitations have had limited or mixed results and that it may be difficult for new employees to adapt to Apple's strong privacy culture, which comes directly from CEO Tim Cook and other senior deputies. Apple's efforts to reduce the amount of customer data it collects are based on concerns that employees might try to look at the information for inappropriate reasons, a type of known abuse that has occurred at Google and Uber, or that hackers might compromise the data.
The report also highlights privacy concerns during the development of the Apple Watch. According to people who worked on the project mentioned in the report, they encountered features like Raise to Speak, which allow users to speak to Siri without saying the word “Hey Siri” or “Hey Siri.” verbal abuse as soon as they raised their wrist, which drew initial opposition due to concerns about data collection.