Why Apple’s Siri is already an enterprise product

The usual suspects love to spend time claiming Siri lags other voice assistants; they don’t seem to understand that Apple’s voice assistant is an enterprise product. It's all about the data – and privacy.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Siri, voice assistant, enterprise

Apple's voice-activated digital assistant, Siri, has come in for more than its share of criticism that it has fallen behind other voice assistants in some ways. Critics don’t seem to understand that Apple’s voice assistant is an enterprise product.

Why is Siri an enterprise product?

This is what happens when you use a voice search tool: You activate the assistant, it listens to what you say, identifies that a request is being made and sends that request to the cloud to be resolved and responded to.

This all happens pretty quickly and after a short delay your response arrives, or an action takes place.

The difference is what happens to what you’ve said.

Some voice platforms will retain everything you say (your data) in such a way as it can be traced to your account. Apple doesn’t do this. When data (what you say) is sent to the servers, the company uses anonymized rotating identifies to protect your privacy (more on Apple's approach to privacy is here).

[Also read: Apple Business Chat goes global as enterprises get the iMessage]

Most of the tasks that require your personal information are handled on the device itself – it simply takes guidelines from the cloud. This report provides a little more background on how it works.

In case of sonic attack

Apple does retain Siri requests, but these are only kept for six months and are stripped of personal identifiers. So they cannot be traced to you.

That’s very different from how other services work – some even keep your requests in archives in the cloud, archives that can be accessed by anyone who happens to get your login details for that particular service.

Think about that.

It means that when you use a voice assistant on some other platforms you are leaving your request vulnerable to being hacked.

That may be OK if all you want to do is ask your assistant to switch your domestic lighting, music and heating systems to your special ‘Date Night’ setting. But it's  a lot less trivial if your instruction is something like:

“Hey Siri, update the opportunity information and reduce the customer success warning from Red to Green. Remind me in 2 weeks to follow up that all of our actions have now been completed. Send an email to the customer and thank them for buying lunch. And Play U2 ‘Beautiful Day’.”

Which is precisely the Siri integration Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff used as an example when his company and Apple announced their partnership earlier this year.

Data is valuable, don’t give it away

Enterprise users handle customer data all the time.

That data has value, and in some industries failure to protect customer data can lead to punitive fines.

They also handle secrets.

They do not want their valuable customer transactions stored in the cloud in a form that’s as easy to access as breaking into a person’s service provider account. They certainly do not want their confidential requests being shared with others by accident.

We know for certain that there are plenty of people/governments/criminals out there who want to figure out how to break into people’s accounts in order to steal people’s data. So long as something exists, they want in.

Enterprise reality is that every enterprise already knows it is under cyberattack.

They know that attacks are sophisticated and will target individuals as well as the company itself (and its partners). They have heard the warnings that in some cases their security may already be compromised. This is where we are now.

Better for business

Within this context, it should be crystal clear to anyone that enterprise users will not – should not – use a voice assistant that doesn’t at the very least match the privacy commitments Apple makes.

So long as confidential information is available in some form, people will try to steal it.

That’s why Apple makes it private, encrypts it, and anonymizes it.

And that is why Siri is an enterprise product.

It’s also why I fully expect the Salesforce/Apple integration will be followed by many more such partnerships as enterprise users focus on using the most secure mass market voice assistant tech on the iOS devices they are already investing in.

One more thing

There’s a one more thing to this, of course:

Just as the enterprise changed in response to consumer need driving the evolution of BYOD, consumers need to also get wise to the need for privacy in a connected age.

Within that context, voice assistant technology should not solely be judged on how quickly it can order soap powder, but also on how many people (including data warehousing operations) you want knowing you placed that order in the first place. 

That can be valuable demographic information to some people. What does your soap powder preference reveal about your income, sexual preference or political identity? We know people are using and abusing that kind of information.

It already happened.

You may be the product, but enterprise users are not.

I wonder when people will begin to respect that message?

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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