Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature"

Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature

That's the headline of a piece a friend just sent to me asking if there was genuine cause for concern. When I began reading it, I thought it was a Facebook alarmist post or article from a yellow journalism website:

If you’re setting yourself up to get the new iPhone or get the new iPhone for your kids then you need to make sure you’re aware of the new features. This is something that needs to be shared with friends to let Apple know sneaky behavior will NOT be tolerated. According to Gawker, the new iPhone will be recording video and sound AT ALL TIMES when your camera app is open by default whether you’re taking picture or not. If you’re planning on getting the iPhone 6s BE SURE TO TURN THIS FEATURE OFF.

Obviously, I'm not Tim, today.
No, this quote, complete with bolded capitalization, is not from Fox News or some tin-foil hat blog. Rather, it's from CBS.

So, are these claims true? Well, on a very technical level, yes they are, but there's no cause for concern. Apple calls these features Hey Siri and Live Photos.

This might sound like splitting hairs, but there's a bit of a difference between "listening" and "recording." The key difference between listening and recording is the same as caching and saving. Saving something means it persists until a user deletes it. Caching something means it's temporarily saved, for perhaps a second or two, until it's determined if it's needed. If the content is not needed, it's discarded much like a buffer; or, more likely, erased as new content is recorded over it.

Hey Siri, which is available on currently shipping iPhone models, only works when the phone is charging to save power. With the new iPhone 6s, the Hey Siri feature can be enabled at all times and, much like other listening devices, such as Amazon's Echo, it's constantly listening to sounds to determine if a key phrase is spoken. Let's say that's no more than two seconds of sound. After two seconds, any new sounds are recorded over the previous sounds. The same is true for Live Photos where Apple records video in a cache which is saved when you press the shutter button. With Live Photos, about one second of video is recorded just before and after you press the shutter. If you don't snap a photo, the video is discarded.

This isn't much different than any digital camera, whether it's on a smart phone or point-and-shoot model. Without pressing the shutter button, images are still cached on the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera for a fraction of a second. You could point a point-and-shoot camera at something I can't see and even if you never press the shutter, I could still record a video of the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera and capture everything. The key difference with Hey Siri and Live Photos is that no one has access to the cached content while the one or two second loop is recording.

Yellow-journalism is creeping more and more into mainstream media. Anything to get eye balls. Phft. Or, perhaps the joke's on me.

Update: Just to beat a dead horse, Apple chimed in to confirm that none of the Hey Siri or Live Photo content is leaving the iPhone 6S.

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