Apple to Congress: No, iPhones don't eavesdrop on users

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Apple's iPhones don't eavesdrop on users' conversations, according to a letter the company sent to U.S. House representatives Aug. 7.

"We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data," reads the letter, obtained by CNET.

The letter, signed by Apple's director of federal government affairs Timothy Powderly, served as a direct response to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's July 9 inquiry into Apple's privacy policies.

The House committee penned two related letters in July — one to Apple CEO Tim Cook and one to Larry Page, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet. The letter to Mr. Cook asked him to clarify the types of data iPhones collect, such as whether they can gather audio data from users' conversations and, if so, whether that data is passed along to third-party apps.

In response to the letter, Apple wrote it aims to be transparent about its data collection practices and works to dissociate any information from the individual user.

"Because we strongly believe the customer should control their personal information and the way it's used, we provide a number of easily accessible resources on our website so that they can make wise choices," the letter reads. "Most of your questions are addressed in public-facing documents such as our privacy website."

Apple highlighted it uses a speech recognizer to determine when a user is talking to the iPhone's virtual assistant, Siri, which does not record user conversations. Instead, the speech recognizer uses machine learning to determine the probability of a user saying the trigger phrase, "Hey Siri," which leads the virtual assistant to "wake up" and execute commands.

Apple also said the company does not provide third-party developers with access to these "Siri utterances."

"The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertisers," the letter reads.

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