Apple released their new iPad last week, drawing huge crowds (as usual). The new iPad sports several noteworthy new features, including a retina display, 4G LTE connectivity, and a much-improved camera. One expected feature that was not added to the new iPad was Siri. Instead, new iPad owners get Dictation, which allows users to speak to their iPad and have their speech turned into text.
Reviews of the dictation feature have been mostly positive. That is to say, it works about as well as dictation on the iPhone 4S (which often works better than Siri, surprisingly). Some are wondering, however, whether the new iPad’s dictation feature may have a darker side. Now, this isn’t the kind of darker side where your iPad goes berserk and kills you, but it is a potentially significant concern, even so. The concern is what the iPad does with private data like your contacts.
You may be wondering why it matters. Of course the dictation feature (and Siri, on the iPhone 4S) can access contacts. How else would Siri know what to do when you say “Call Mom”? The same goes for dictation: you can dictate email and text contacts, too. But that’s okay, right? Because those features need access to that data in order to function, right? Yes, they do. The problem, though, comes from what your device does with that data. You see, dictation is not handled directly by your iPad (nor Siri requests by your iPhone). Your device records what you say and uploads it to Apple’s servers, where your request is processed and either rendered as text (with dictation) or responded to (by Siri). To make this process smoother, your iPad also uploads certain data – including contacts and familial relationships (which are user-defined) – to Apple’s servers.
While you might be tempted to get upset about this, it’s actually not as bad as it might seem. Yes, Apple collects certain kinds of information from your device – not limited to contacts – but unlike some (e.g., Path and Twitter), Apple is pretty up-front about the fact that dictation (and Siri) requires certain kinds of data to be stored on Apple’s servers. Dictation has to be turned on manually before it can be used, immediately below the button that turns dictation on is a link to more information:
So basically, dictation only gathers the data it does to make using the feature easier. The data it gathers is kept separate from any other information Apple has about you. What’s more, if you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of dictation storing your data, disabling the feature deletes all your user data from Apple’s servers.
What do you think? Is the fact that dictation stores some of your contact information a privacy concern? Is it not really a big deal? Sound off in the comments.