Apple has been transitioning towards privacy for years, and they have been making strides. However, Siri has been transmitting recordings to Apple’s servers for processing. It is clear that iPhones have the required hardware to handle speech recognition offline instead of using a remote server to do it, and now Apple is rolling out that offline speech recognition capability in iOS 15.
The privacy impact of transmitting your requests (which sometimes contain sensitive info) to a company’s servers must be significant. Another part of this is the analytics involved in virtual assistants. For example: Apple had contractors listen to customers’ anonymized Siri requests to grade Siri’s performance, but shut that down in 2019 for privacy reasons.
Modern machine learning technology has improved its unsupervised learning capabilities, which makes offline processing more feasible. The decision to handle speech recognition within the confines of your iPhone will also improve performance because your requests won’t be delayed by the transmission of recordings over your Internet connection. This is also necessary for a number of people with unreliable and slow Internet connections.
I’ve personally had Siri fail due to limited connectivity. This new decision solves that problem. Travelers will also love this, whether they are relying on expensive roaming with mobile data or have no Internet access while traveling. Siri will still be there. Note that some requests such as dictation still require an Internet connection, and the same applies to anything that has to be searched for online (this applies any content that is not on your phone).
In general, dependence on cloud-based services has dealt a major blow to privacy for two key reasons: One is simply that companies will have access to your information because it will have to pass through their servers. The second reason is that many companies can’t resist recording and selling your personal information as it passes through their servers.
This has caused leaks among other issues. Hopefully this will now encourage other companies such as Google and Amazon to start processing data offline, considering that the need for cloud services is no longer a legitimate excuse for collecting customers’ recordings. The fact that Siri will be faster than theirs due to offline processing should also help to motivate them.