A San Francisco federal judge has barred Apple from making certain arguments defending against a proposed privacy class action, as punishment for deleting audio recordings of users’ interactions with its Siri voice assistant central to the allegations, reports Bloomberg Law.

“It is undisputed that Apple did not suspend its retention policy after it was served and, thus, continued to delete ESI pursuant to its retention policy,” Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the US District Court for the Northern District of California wrote in an order, referring to electronically stored information. “Instead, Apple argues that the documents deleted pursuant to its retention policy were not relevant. The Court disagrees.”

The sanctions stop Apple from making any affirmative arguments based on the plaintiffs’ failures to draw evidence from the deleted data. In an August 2019 complaint, it was reported contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading,” Siri. In response, Apple temporarily halted the grading program. The company resumed it in the fall, but said it had made these changes. 

  • First, by default, we will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve. 
  • Second, users will be able to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests. We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place. Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time. 
  • Third, when customers opt in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions. Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.

Kim has ordered that a jury needs to determine whether Apple deleted the information intentionally and should therefore be subject to more severe sanctions, reports Bloomberg Law.

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