Apple Wins Dismissal in Siri Eavesdropping Suit

On Wednesday, Judge Jeffrey S. White dismissed a consumer class action lodged against Apple, Inc. alleging that “Siri,” a voice-activated “intelligent assistant,” listened in on conversations in violation of federal and state privacy laws. The Northern District of California court dismissed the claims for lack of Article III standing along with other pleading flaws.

According to opinion, the three plaintiffs claimed that Siri sometimes eavesdrops on conversations outside of “active listening mode,” despite Apple’s assurances. In addition, a small proportion of both intentional and accidental Siri recordings are sent to third-party contractors for evaluation. The contractors listen to the samples then grade Siri, and, as a result, are sometimes privy to “‘private discussions between doctors and patients, confidential business deals, and sexual encounters.’”

In its defense and as a threshold matter, Apple claimed that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to bring the suit. In response, the plaintiffs proffered two theories of harm, that Apple disclosed their private information without consent and that they suffered an economic injury because they overpaid for, but did not receive, the full benefit of their Apple devices.

The court agreed with Apple that the first theory of harm was “overly speculative,” ruling that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of the rate at which Siri was triggered to listen to them outside of active listening mode. In addition, the court ruled that the consumers failed to explain “their particular use of those devices in contexts where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The court held that the plaintiffs’ economic harm theory suffered from the same defects. Chiefly, it concluded that the plaintiffs’ allegations failed to demonstrate that they themselves overpaid for Apple devices.

The court further addressed the plaintiffs’ claims regarding violations of the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act, and other California statutory and common laws. It found each claim deficient for either want of standing or for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Judge White ordered the plaintiffs to file and serve an amended complaint within 20 days, and Apple to file its response within 20 days thereafter.

The plaintiffs are represented by Lexington Law Group, Lowey Dannenberg, P.C., Scott + Scott Attorneys at Law LLP, and the Apple by DLA Piper LLP.