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macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

Three years ago, Apple explored letting users use Siri to make purchases for apps and services, similar to how users can use Amazon's Alexa to place orders online, but engineers scrapped the idea following privacy concerns, according to a new report today by The Information.


The report highlights how engineers at Apple have limited access to how users use Apple's services, such as Apple TV+ and Apple Maps. Apple's strict privacy procedures make it harder for engineers to have direct access to usage data, causing concern that the company's strict privacy policy is stifling Apple's services and making it harder to compete with Google and others.

In the more noteworthy tidbit of the report, The Information reveals that in 2019, Apple explored the possibility of letting users use Siri to make purchases, but that further along in the project, the team in charge of the effort had to abort the idea following privacy concerns.
Some proposed Apple features never see the light of day because of privacy restrictions. In 2019, employees explored whether a customer could use Siri to purchase apps and other online services by using their voice, similar to how customers of Amazon buy products using its voice assistant, Alexa, according to a person with direct knowledge of the project. The effort stalled in part because of strict privacy rules that prevented Siri from tying a person's Apple ID to their voice request. The Apple media products team in charge of the project couldn't find an alternative way to reliably authenticate users in order to bill them, this person said.
This isn't the first time that Apple's privacy policy has limited what its engineers can do, according to the report. Engineers and staffers working on Siri, the App Store, and even the Apple Card often have to "find creative or costly ways to make up for the lack of access to data."

One of those creative ways Apple engineers have come up with is differential privacy, which was first demoed by Apple's Craig Federighi at WWDC 2016. In a technical PDF overview, Apple describes its implementation of differential privacy as enabling it "to learn about the user community without learning about individuals in the community. Differential privacy transforms the information shared with Apple before it ever leaves the user’s device such that Apple can never reproduce the true data."

Even with differential privacy, however, and Apple's attempt to aggregate as much user data possible without making it traceable back to specific users, engineers remain concerned and feel constrained with what they can and can not do, according to the report.
Despite those efforts, the former Apple employees said that differential privacy and other attempts to work around customer data restrictions have had limited or mixed results and that it can be tough for new employees to adapt to Apple's strong privacy culture, which comes directly from CEO Tim Cook and other senior vice presidents. Apple's efforts to reduce how much customer data it collects are based on fears that employees could try to look at the information for improper reasons—the kind of well-known violations that have occurred at Google and at Uber—or that hackers could compromise the data.
The report also sheds light on privacy concerns during the development of the Apple Watch. According to people who worked on the project cited in the report, features like Raise to Speak, which lets users speak to Siri without a verbal "Hey Siri" by just raising their wrist faced initial pushback due to concerns about microphone and accelerometer data collection.

Article Link: Apple Scrapped Plans to Let Users Use Siri to Make Purchases Due to Privacy Concerns
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macrumors 68020
Oct 31, 2010
“Hey Siri, play ‘IPHONE’ by Rico Nasty.”

“Ok, placing an order for iPhone SE.”
*receives phone notification of iPhone SE order*
*receives email of iPhone SE order*
*gets actual iPhone SE in mail*
*uses iPhone SE*

Six months later

*contacts Apple to demand a refund because of an unauthorized charge*

I'm sure there will be a few of these out there as well LOL


macrumors 6502
Dec 29, 2021
Siri is not as efficient or advanced as some like to believe it to be. It is somewhat okay if your hands are tied, like when driving.
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macrumors member
Aug 18, 2020
Not that I'm trying to defend Siri or anything but using Alexa to order things doesn't work most of the time either. With the same Echo, sometimes it will place my order but mostly it will instead add the item to the cart and I have to log in from a browser and complete the order.


macrumors 6502a
May 6, 2008
With how every single software design decision is patented, I'd also think that a big part came down to having to pay Amazon (or someone they're paying) a fee to license it. "Privacy" becomes a good buzz word after this.
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Reactions: Sikh


macrumors 68020
Nov 7, 2017
Me: could you place a repeat order for x2 packs of beer please

Siri: Sure! I’ve ordered you 200lb of seared plaice.



macrumors G5
*receives phone notification of iPhone SE order*
*receives email of iPhone SE order*
*gets actual iPhone SE in mail*
*uses iPhone SE*

Six months later

*contacts Apple to demand a refund because of an unauthorized charge*

...only to discover that Apple has put Siri in charge of CS calls...

"I didn't order an iPhone SE"

"Placing your new order for iPhone SE"

"No I don't want a new iPhone SE"

"Placing your new order for iPhone SE"

"No I don't want any of the 3 iPhone SEs"

"Placing your new order for 3 iPhone SEs"

"Supervisor! Supervisor!"

"I don't know what you mean by supervisor, supervisor. Here's what I found on the web for supervisor, supervisor."

Email confirms 5 new iPhone SEs on the way.

Apple roars through the next Trillion dollar valuation tier.



macrumors 603
May 14, 2012
I can remember way back when SJ from Apple announced a B&W G3 computer with a door. So I went to their newly designed webobjects online store and ordered one computer and one 19” monitor.
That week I received five computers and three monitors and they billed my credit card for all of them sending me way over my credit limit.

I contacted Apple and they picked up the extra units and paid me back plus the overage charges incurred so it was all good at the end.

I wanted to have one of those new computers that could play the new coming halo game. Boy was I gullible for Bungie. Lesson learned.

Unregistered 4U

macrumors G3
Jul 22, 2002
Seems like more of a authentication issue than a privacy issue.
The authentication issue IS the privacy issue. Siri requests are separated from an individual user such that even Apple can’t create a “profile” based on Siri requests. Having requests that ARE tied to specific users breaks that privacy model.

DOES Siri need to be THAT private? Apple thinks so. But this is just another example of a thing that will likely never work via Siri due to that data constraint.
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