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As Siri expands, Apple touts data privacy protections

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Onstage at WWDC today, Apple showed off more powerful personal assistant features than ever before, including features to scan emails, correlate contacts and pull contextual information from private texts. But while those new services draw data from nearly everything you do on your phone, the company was quick to pair the news with avocal attention to user privacy. Apple software engineering VP Craig Federghi emphasized that the data powering the new Siri and iOS features is kept as anonymous as possible, not shared with third-parties, and localized to a user's device. In two separate slides, Apple stated plainly, "you're in control."

"All of this is done on-device and it stays on-device under your control," Federghi told the crowd at WWDC. "We don't mine your email, your photos or your contacts." Federghi also emphasized that Apple didn't use search queries to build user profiles or mine emails, photos or contacts for data, saying, "why would you do that?"

"Why would you do that?"

It's a clear contrast with Google, which uses data from Gmail, Android and other services for targeted advertising. Google Photos, which launched earlier this month, uses data-mining for contextual sorting, similar to the photo-sorting features displayed in El Capitan, but does not use that data for advertising or targeting purposes. Still, user privacy has been at the forefront of both company's ambitions in this area.

Federghi's search comments are also a response to privacy concerns raised last October over the way Spotlight combines local and web searches. Starting with Yosemite, local Spotlight searches (for "vacation photos," say) would also generate some results from a web search for the same term. Since those Apple performs those web searches, the search terms are visible to Apple, which led to concerns that a local and personal file search (for "secret plans Obama leaked me," in one memorable example) would be visible to Apple. But because those searches are performed by temporary identifiers, it's unlikely that the Spotlight search could be traced back to an individual user's machine.