Siri Invasion of Privacy Case Survives Apple’s Dismissal Bid

According to an opinion issued by Judge Jeffrey S. White on Thursday, a consumer lawsuit against Apple Inc. over privacy concerns associated with its voice-activated “Siri” software has largely moved past the motion to dismiss phase. The plaintiffs originally filed suit in August 2019 alleging that Siri intercepts speech in violation of the federal Wiretap Act and various California laws.

In their second amended complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Siri is frequently “triggered by ‘accidental activations’ when the user neither intends nor expects it to be ‘listening’ and thereafter records voice conversations.” Furthermore, they asserted, Apple discloses these mistakenly recorded conversations to quality assurance contractors for review.

Previously, the court dismissed the last iteration of the complaint, though it was largely sufficient, for failure to allege that plaintiffs’ particular conversations were intercepted. In this week’s opinion, Judge White ruled that the plaintiffs cured this deficiency by “adding factual allegations regarding their use of Siri-enabled devices.” For example, one plaintiff  asserted that while having a private conversation in his bedroom in May 2019, he observed that Siri was automatically triggered.

Regarding interception of the plaintiff’s communications, the court acknowledged “the allegations remain sparse.” Nevertheless, it found them plausible because “the information regarding third-party contractors’ review of Siri recordings lies exclusively in Apple’s possession.”

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) claim once again, this time for failure to allege economic injury. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ proffered theory, that consumers stopped using Siri or purchased another phone out of concern over intercepted communications, which made a valuable aspect of their devices valueless.

Judge White explained that their argument is based on a benefit-of-the-bargain theory, which requires reliance on an alleged misrepresentation. Under the UCL, a plaintiff may not simply allege that they did not receive the benefit they thought they were obtaining, but rather must show that they did not receive the benefit for which they actually bargained.

The court rejected several other arguments put forward by Apple, finding them “unpersuasive,” and noting that they had been previously rejected. The court directed the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint or notify the court of its intention not to file another one within 20 days. It directed Apple to limit any subsequent motion to dismiss to the issue of economic injury under the UCL.

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