In a court filing made yesterday, Apple’s head of the global privacy and law enforcement compliance team, spelled out Apple’s responses to the myriad subpoenas that the company received to collect data on the San Bernadino shooters. Manager Lisa Olle declared that in many cases, including just days after the incident, that Apple not only collected multiple data requests from the FBI, but in many cases, acted upon the request and provided compelled data on the same day that the court order arrived in Cupertino.
Olle laid out in the timetable that after an initial phone call early December 5, Apple was served four times for data. The initial request was made on December 5 for three names and nine accounts. December 6 saw requests for three accounts, with same day service. On December 16, the FBI sought information on one name and seven accounts, and Apple delivered that day as well.
The search warrant for the suspect’s iCloud device was served on Friday, January 22, a month and a half after the shooting. All of the information in Apple’s posession was handed over on Tuesday, January 26. The Ex Parte application for Apple to develop the break-in tool for the county-owned iPhone 5c at the center of the case was served on February 16.
Olle, as manager of the law enforcement coordination team, also spelled out what she believes is required of Apple to conform to the application. Above and beyond the engineering effort needed to code the break-in tool, the department head is calling for one or two facilities similar to a US government “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility,” which would need to be “tightly controlled and monitored around the clock.” Also noted is the difficulty of communicating data, device accountability, and the need for “technical escalations” when dealing with law enforcement officials.
Laying down the groundwork for an “undue burden” defense, Olle also notes that she is expecting more law enforcement agencies to also request the use of the tool the FBI is demanding and Apple “would need to hire people whose sole function would be to assist with processing and effectuating such orders.” These new hires “would have no other necessary business or operations function at Apple” and would include paralegals, engineers, and forensic specialists dedicated to trial work.
Cook tells investors that fight with FBI over privacy ‘doesn’t scare us’
Although Apple’s shareholders followed the recommendations of the company and rejected four shareholder-generated proposals as well as re-electing the Board of Directors, the outsider motions — largely centered around accelerating existing company goals, such as being carbon-neutral, increasing diversity, and avoid doing business in countries with human-rights issues — did have an influence on the company’s focus nonetheless. Reverend Jesse Jackson, who attended the Annual General Meeting, said that Apple had done a good job of increasing diversity both in the general workforce and on its executive team.During the meeting, the company and its CEO Tim Cook talked frankly about its intentions to increase the diversity of its workforce, but also revealed some encouraging the progress: in addition to slowly increasing the minority count in it ranks, Apple reported that women earn an average of 99.6 percent of the money males earn — far higher than the US national average of 78 cents for women for ever dollar a man earns — and that minorities earn 99.7 percent of what white workers make, again a vast improvement on the US average of around 66 cents for minorities for every dollar paid to a white worker.
In answer to a question about the company’s current fight with the FBI and other government agencies over encryption and privacy, Cook said the battle “doesn’t scare us” and reiterated the arguments in favor of the company’s refusal that he has given in recent interviews, though he called the dispute a “tough fight.” Cook also tantalized investors at the meeting when asked about the possibility of a new Apple foray into the automotive world.
While refusing to comment on future developments, he asked the audience “do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve — it was so exciting, you weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs? Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while.” His answer plays into speculation that Apple is working on at least some aspect of its own vehicle, or possibly a partnership with an existing manufacturer, that will not be ready for a number of years. Typically, new car development takes around a decade.
In interviews, Cook has been more coy about the company’s possible plans, saying that Apple “explores technologies, and we explore products” when asked about the large number of automotive-connected new hires the company has recruited. Of this, Cook said only that Apple investing in people or a specific area does not assure that anything will come of it, but that doing so is part of a process of investigation that does sometimes lead to new products.
“we’re always thinking about ways that Apple can make great products that people love, that help them in some way,” Cook told one interviewer. “And we don’t go into very many categories, as you know. We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things, and do a lot fewer.”
In other announcements from the meeting, the company will raise its dividend again this year, redoubled its commitment to customer privacy, and hinted that it will continue to be aggressive in acquiring smaller technology companies over the next year. Cook noted that Apple had bought some 19 tech companies since the beginning of last year.
Siri is on nearly every Apple device but the Mac, but its debut on the desktop has the potential to change everything.
That was my initial reaction when I heard the report last week that one of the major features of the next version of OS X would be Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri.
That’s a long time in the making: Siri debuted on the iPhone 4s back in 2011—seems virtually ancient, doesn’t it? Since then, the voice-activated assistant has been a staple of Apple’s devices, migrating first to the iPad, and more recently to the Apple Watch early last year and the new Apple TV last fall.
But the Mac, Apple’s longest running product line, has been left out in the cold. It’s an odd choice, given that most Macs are plenty powerful to handle the computing needs of the virtual assistant. Meanwhile, there’s been competition from other quarters, such as Microsoft’s Cortana on Windows 10 (and even iOS) and Google’s voice search built into Chrome, Android…and even iOS.
That said, Siri’s late arrival on the Mac doesn’t make it an unwelcome one. I’m just hoping that it comes with some improvements.
According to the same report that heralded Siri’s inclusion in OS X, the Mac version will—like its iPhone counterpart—respond to “Hey Siri” when it’s plugged in. That’s good news for iMac users, since it means that Siri’s always available. As an Amazon Echo user, I know the benefits of having an always-on voice interface that you can use when your hands are full or you’re far away from your computer.
But I also have some worries, both in terms of software and hardware. For one, part of the reason that the Echo works so well is because it has an array of seven carefully tuned microphones designed to pick up your voice from far away. Most Macs, meanwhile, have limited ambient noise correction on their internal microphones—and most have only one mic, unlike recent iPhones, which use a second mic for noise cancelling. Hearing you say “Hey Siri” may be possible, but it remains to be seen how well your Mac’s internal mic will understand your query from across the room, or when there’s a lot of background noise.
Another potential wrinkle is that we have many devices that can potentially respond to “Hey Siri” these days, including iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch. Will Siri know, intelligently, which device to trigger when the phrase is used? Or will we instead be greeted by a chorus of Siri responses from all our various gadgets? While it may not make the first iteration, I’m hopeful this might lead to the ability to have customizable phrases to trigger Siri on different devices. (Okay, maybe I just want the Star Trek experience of calling my iMac “Computer.” Sue me!)
Talk to each other
I’d also like to see Apple make Siri more aware of all of our various devices, and in bringing the virtual assistant to the Mac, I’m hopeful that we’re one step closer to that being a reality. I’d like to be able to tell Siri to look something up on my Mac and send the result to my iPhone. Or have it tell my Apple TV to start playing a certain video.
More to the point, I’d like Siri to be a little smarter and, well, a little more assistant-like. For example, when I ask Siri “How long will it take me to get to my dentist appointment today?” it will tell me that I have an appointment at 3pm—but that’s not what I asked. It’s all the more surprising, since I know my calendar appointment has the location of my dentist appointment, and will pop up a notification when it’s time to go.
In short: Real assistants are good at synthesizing information. Siri, not so much.
Of course, that’s the hard part of programming a virtual assistant or AI: creating those links between different information, which the human brain does so naturally. I’m sure Apple’s engineers are hard at work on an even smarter Siri, but in the meantime it would be great if the company would make the assistant more aware of the information it already has.
The more, the merrier
Finally, many of us have long awaited some form of third-party extensibility for Siri. Might the integration with OS X at last provide a platform on which it makes sense to test that out? Despite the recent enforcement of restrictive features like sandboxing, the Mac platform has historically provided a much more open environment, and many of the concerns that one might have on a mobile platform—limited resources, locked-down security model, etc.—aren’t as much of a worry on a desktop or laptop.
I’d love to see Apple start to open up Siri to Mac developers, letting them integrate the virtual assistant with their applications. We don’t all do our email via Mail, our browsing via Safari, our writing in Pages, or our tweeting via the Twitter app. Letting third-party developers create hooks into Siri would open up the possibility for some great new implementations and innovation, just as it has for features like 3D Touch.
Siri on the Mac is full of possibilities and opportunities for Apple, developers, and users—just as long as the company decides to actually take a chance and not just give us a warmed over version of the Siri we already know.