Apple will keep conversations with Siri and HomePod a secret

All the voice commands heading to Siri through the new smart speaker will be anonymized and encrypted -- meaning even Apple won't know what you're saying.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

Apple's Phil Schiller talks about the new HomePod speaker at WWDC. 

James Martin/CNET

Siri might hear you loud and clear on the new HomePod smart speaker, but Apple won't. 

Apple introduced the Siri-powered device Monday at the Worldwide Developers Conference, making it clear from the get-go that voice commands will be anonymized and encrypted.

Voice assistants have already taken over homes with the Amazon EchoGoogle Home and Microsoft's Cortana speakers. They've all raised privacy issues of their own, but Apple adds some scale to the concerns.

As the largest tech company in the world, Apple is often in the crosshairs of hackers and governments. For example, the number of security orders from US law enforcement to Apple doubled to about 6,000 during the second half of 2016, compared with the first six months of the year, the company disclosed in late May.

The HomePod won't always be listening to its users. Like Amazon and Google's voice assistant, a person activates it with a wake word or phrase. With the HomePod, it'll be "Hey Siri."

"Our team cares deeply about your privacy," Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller said at Monday's keynote.  "It has that magic phrase, 'Hey Siri.' Until you say it, nothing's being sent to Apple."

Here are the iOS 11 features Apple announced at WWDC 2017

See all photos

When the data does get sent, anonymization and encryption means your voice commands aren't tied to your Apple ID, and even the company isn't able to clearly view it.

So far, data stored on Amazon's servers is not anonymized. Google Home's assistant is able to access a user's search and location history and stores data on voice commands until it's been deleted.

The FBI declined to disclose how often it requests voice data from Amazon's Echo, but the retail giant has shown that it can retrieve Alexa recordings from specific users in a criminal investigation.

The encryption for HomePod conversations sticks with Apple's push for user privacy from the government, a mindset that also helped the company fight off the FBI's demands to unlock the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone in 2016. 

WhatsApp also encrypts all its messages so that it won't be able to comply with government orders

It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet? These stories get to the heart of the matter.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.