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Apple: Active Pursuit of Cellphone Metadata and Voiceprints

Biometric identifier pinpoints you as accurately as a fingerprint

At least one software giant has moved from a passive to an active role in reaping personal information from the web such as cellphone metadata. Apple, a company long known for stability, by 2013 takes a new stance: AppleCare Support pressures its customers, wheedles, and maneuvers toward one fixed goal: To convince a customer to change over from Chat or Email to a telephone call. Technical questions a customer might bring to AppleCare no longer weigh on the scale.

Review of my experience: On June 7, 2013 I bought an iPod Touch from Future Shop. Being new, the iPod was eligible for AppleCare Support. The initial issue was that my iPod would not connect to iTunes. Later there emerged a discrepancy between the purchase date on my receipt versus the date on record at Apple. The date had to be resolved to restore my full warranty period.

Diligently I searched tutorials and forums but found no answers. Then I tried Apple Support. I logged in with my Apple ID, entered my device serial number, and chose a contact method: Chat (real-time communication done in writing in a browser window).

On June 18, 2013 I had two Chat sessions (duration 89 and 80 minutes). Over the two sessions, Apple subjected me to 15 separate demands to change over to a telephone call, despite my steadfast plea that I preferred written contact. My inquiries about iTunes and the purchase date went unsolved.

Next day I discovered Apple's Privacy Questions page, and through there submitted an email titled Allow Customer to Limit Contact Method. That solved the issue of the purchase date, though Apple made one audacious last stand to inveigle a phone call.

Interaction Date / Time Number of ploys by Apple
for telephone contact
Apple Chat: First Session 2013 June 18 08:50 AM 8 distinct ploys
Apple Chat: Second Session 2013 June 18 10:42 AM 7 distinct ploys
Apple Privacy Question 2013 June 19 July 2 1 ploy

What do Telephones Mean to Apple?

I accessed Chat because I needed links to iTunes tutorials, and I also needed to restore my full warranty period. What media suits hypertext links – a browser window, or a phone call? What is the businesslike way to verify a purchase receipt – to email a scanned image, or to talk by phone? In these circumstances, the demands for telephone contact made no sense.

Yet the Apple reps exerted persistent, escalating pressure for a phone call; my technical questions eventually fell by the wayside. Conclusion: Apple sets a higher priority on establishing phone contact than on providing tech support. The mandate deserves thought. Consider:

Edward Snowden unveiled the NSA surveillance projects – Prism, Stellar Wind, Boundless Informant – which siphon cellphone data from the web. To accomplish their data-mining, the NSA negotiates the cooperation of software giants. This puts our cellphone metadata at risk. But another, less-publicized parameter exists. During a call on a smartphone, voice-recognition software can analyze and store your voiceprint on company servers. This biometric identifier is equal in accuracy to a fingerprint. On Apple devices the technology is called Siri.

Data-mining of cellphone metadata and voiceprints could explain Apple's coercive attempts for phone contact. But clients can say no, and stand firm.

The Chat Transcripts and Privacy Question emails are lengthy. The excerpts on this page establish the sequence of 16 telephone references. For background and context, visit the fulltext documents.

First Chat Session: June 18, 2013 08:50 AM

Duration 89 minutes Fulltext
Apple (Ryan) Hello, my name is Ryan. Welcome to AppleCare chat support. Please give me a moment to look over your information. I see you are having an issue with connecting to iTunes. You purchased it on 6-7-2013. Is that correct? Intro
Customer Yes, I have my receipt in front of me. I bought it at Future Shop in Saskatoon.
Apple (Ryan) Okay, yes our system is showing a purchase date of 5-8-2013. Was this purchased as a new iPod touch from Future Shop?
Customer Yes, it was bought as a new iPod Touch from Future Shop. But your date of 5-8-2013 is wrong. I should check: does that date mean May 8, 2013?
Apple (Ryan) Yes, it does mean May 8th 2013. We can get this straightened out for you. However I would need to put you in touch with an advisor over the phone. I would be happy to have an advisor call you in a matter of minutes. How does that sound? Telephone
# 1
Customer No, this should be in writing. I cannot think of any reason why you want to involve telephones.
Apple (Ryan) I sense that you have some outstanding concerns; how about I contact a senior advisor to look at your situation to get another set of eyes on your issue?
Apple (Ryan) I can help you with the technical issue with iTunes but we are geared for the technical side of things. Issues such an your purchase date are normally handled by another department only available over the phone at this time. However if I bring a senior advisor on, here in chat they have more tools at their disposal and may be able to better asset you regarding this. I am happy to do whatever you are most comfortable with. Telephone
# 2
Customer Okay, bring on a senior advisor. No problem.
Apple (Ryan) I really apologize, my system is updating and I am unable to bring a senior advisor on at this time. I only have the ability to schedule an advisor to call you at this time. I would be more than happy to address the iTunes issue with you now. Or have an advisor call you. I know you would prefer to keep this in chat. Another thing I can do is notate everything we discussed on your case, that way you can chat us back and speak with a senior advisor here in chat. What would work best for you? Telephone
# 3
Customer Okay – help me with iTunes now. Then tell me when to Chat back, at a time when a senior advisor is available.
Apple (Ryan) Well, I have to admit my expertise is on the iOS side of things. But an advisor in our Mac support department may be able to help troubleshoot that issue with you. However our Mac support department is not available in chat at this time, only over the phone. Telephone
# 4
Customer It sounds as if I will have to speak to an advisor. When can that be arranged? Telephone
# 5
Apple (Ryan) I know you would rather keep this in chat and I would to, but yes, speaking with an advisor over the phone for the Mac slowness and the other issue would really be the best away to resolve both issues.
Customer Can your senior advisor find a copy of iTunes 10.7 and place it on the Apple site? Please note: I will communicate with the advisor by Chat, or by email if he/she prefers... Technical issues really do have to be explored in writing.
Apple (Ryan) I agree I find it easier myself! A senior advisor can look into it, but in this instance they would most likely be unable to. It would not hurt to check though and normally I would for you if I was not having the issue with my system currently!
Apple (Ryan) What time is it where you are? I will find the best time for an advisor to call you if you like. Telephone
# 6
Customer How many days lead time do you need?
Apple (Ryan) I can more than likely have an advisor call you in matter of minutes! Telephone
# 7
Customer Okay, now hold on. Twice I have explained that our communication will be in writing, by Chat or by email ONLY.
Apple (Ryan) I apologize maybe I misunderstood, a moment ago you asked about having an advisor call you and when it could be arranged. I was just going by that if you would like to keep this in chat the best thing to do is chat back in 20 minutes and we can put you in touch with a senior advisor if you prefer. My apologies if I misunderstood. Telephone
# 8
Customer Okay, chat back in about 20 minutes.  [Logout at 10:20 AM]

Second Chat Session: June 18, 2013 10:42 AM

Duration 80 minutes Fulltext
Apple (Karen) I really need to get you over to an advisor who works in the CPU department. Would you be willing to take a phone call right now? What is a good number to call you on? Telephone
# 9
Customer At the end of my last Chat, Ryan asked me to Chat back in 20 minutes (which is about now), to communicate with a senior advisor. But not by telephone. By Chat or email only, please.
Apple (Karen) I am bringing Rob on the line now, my senior advisor.
Apple (Rob) If you contact phone support and provide a receipt, they can adjust your purchase date to reflect the correct information. Telephone
# 10
Customer I guess the purchase date is important, for the sake of the warranty.
Apple (Rob) FutureShop should be able to answer the question of original purchase date more definitively than Technical Support can.
Customer I will ask them next time I am in the store. How do I get the purchase date adjusted by Apple. I have my receipt from Future Shop in front of me now. Can I email the data, or scan the receipt and email the image? Telephone
# 11
Apple (Rob) I can schedule a call back from the Phone Support group and they can walk you though the process. I would just need the best time and number to reach you.
Customer For business, I communicate only in writing. That is firm. Thus make arrangements for Chat or email, or even ordinary (snail) mail. Nothing else.
Apple (Rob) Chat Support, nor email support, has the resources in place to make those adjustments. Telephone
# 12
Customer Why? Surely, giving the information verbally (over the phone) cannot be any kind of verification... And please note: If Apple cannot do this in writing, it creates an aura of something wrong. So here are the options: Chat, or email, or ordinary mail, or else I return the iPod.
Apple (Rob) I really would like to help you further with this. But I believe we have exhausted all the resources available to us here in Chat Support. Telephone
# 13
Customer Answer my last question.
Apple (Rob) I know that's probably not the answer you were hoping to hear, but I want to be as honest and straightforward with you as possible. I hope you understand we want to do everything we can to help, but there's even limits to what we can do for some situations. Telephone
# 14
Customer No, all I have seen between you and Ryan is persistent pressure for telephone contact. I have my own opinion on that score.
Apple (Rob) The internal infrastructure of Apple is such that Chat Support is here to assist with basic troubleshooting. More complicated scenarios, like your situation, are handled by Phone Support. Telephone
# 15
Customer Those situations could just as easily be handled by email.
Apple (Rob) I'm not really in any position to discuss the viability of that statement. Would you like me to schedule a call back from Phone Support in order to adjust that Purchase Date.
Customer If the good Snowden did not have his hands full, I might send this transcript to him. Goodbye.  [Logout]

Apple Privacy Question Emails

2013 June 19 to July 2 Fulltext
# 16
✓  Success !


Voice Biometrics

Patents:  Voice Recognition Software

Want to know where federal surveillance is headed?  Take a walk through recent patent titles on the Justia Patents site. The NSA routinely harvests voice profiles for permanent storage in a vast database which makes no distinction between whitelist or blacklist. Software giants and independent inventors alike are along for the ride.

A voiceprint is far more intrusive than metadata from email or cellphone logs. Discard the tranquil metaphor that the NSA harvests only data equivalent to the outside of a mailed envelope. As patents reveal, Speaker Recognition Software is now so sophisticated that the ability to profile is on the horizon via analysis of your emotions (intensity of speech); your personality type (speaking speed, tone of voice); your education level (word length); your socio-economic status (vocabulary); and your birthplace (accent, pronunciation, rhythm).

Amazon Voice-Based Determination of Physical and Emotional Characteristics
Apple Voice Assignment for Text-to-Speech Output
AT&T System and Method for Tracking Persons of Interest via Voiceprint
Google Hybrid Client-Server Speech Recognition In A Mobile Device
Independent Building Whitelists Comprising Voiceprints Not Associated with Fraud
Microsoft Supplementing Biometric Identification with Device Identification
Nuance (Siri) Method, Apparatus, and Program for Certifying a Voice Profile
NSA Biomimetic Voice Identifier
Sprint Generation of Voice Profiles

Update:  Affect Recognition Misguided, but Sails Ahead

The AI Now Institute at New York University is a research center focused on the social significance of AI (Artificial Intelligence). The AI Now Report 2018 recommends that: (1) Consumer protection agencies should apply truth-in-advertising laws to AI products and services. (2) Facial recognition and affect recognition need stringent regulation to protect the public interest.

The Intercept, citing AI Now, issued a strong warning against ubiquitous facial recognition, and its more sinister cousin, affect recognition — technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. The Intercept cautions: If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that's because it sort of is. Affect recognition is literal phrenology: It just replaces calipers with modern tools of machine learning.

Georgena S. Sil
Saskatoon, Canada
Physicist & Technical Writer
Alumnus: University of British Columbia
Twitter Facebook Linked In Google+
NSA Data Center, Utah

NSA Data Center, Utah

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

Frederick Douglass
The Lion of Anacostia

Electronic voice pattern

Voice Print

Top of picture
The series of white dots (or blobs) shows the loudness of the voice input signal as time progresses

Blue waveform
Spectral information: Frequency variation of the voice signal (vertical axis) versus time (horizontal axis)

Horizontal axis
The time domain is marked in 0.5-second intervals

Voice Waveform
As unique as a fingerprint


What is a Voice Print?

‘Speech recognition’ deals with words as discrete units, to identify what is said. ‘Speaker recognition’ uses the unique pitch contour of the human voice plus behavior characteristics to identify who is speaking.

Most smartphones contains speaker recognition software which can analyze and store your voiceprint when you speak into phone circuits. This biometric identifier can pinpoint you as accurately as a fingerprint.

It makes sense to use voiceprints to enhance the security of costly cellphones. The owner's waveform, stored on the device, is compared to the voice of someone trying to use the phone. A failure to match triggers shutdown.

It does not make sense why Apple or Sprint is storing your voiceprint on company servers, making it as easy to harvest as metadata.

Voiceprint as Profiler

A speech sample is a waveform with loudness on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. From this, speaker recognition software draws out the frequency content (pitch) plus data about the quality, duration and intensity dynamics of the voice signal.

Original patents portrayed voiceprints as a biometric identifier to supplement password protection on mobile devices. But the FBI Biometrics Center and newer patents indicate this software will be used in a predictive way, to profile people. According to, the acoustic pattern of speech is the sum of:

  • Physical traits: Structure of vocal tract and airways; movement of jaw, tongue and larynx; resonance of nasal passages.
  • Behavioral components: Motion of the mouth, pronunciations, emotional state.
  • High level characteristics: Rhythm, speed, modulation and tone based on personality type and parental influence. Semantics is analyzed as it relates to birthplace, socio-economic status, and education level.
CSE and CSIS Headquarters

Joined by a glass bridge: sigint and humint

CSE electronic surveillance (signals intelligence), left

CSIS overt and covert operations (human intelligence), right

CSE  Communications Security Establishment

1941 Began as Examinations Unit, National Research Council

1946 Renamed Communications Branch, NRC

1975 Renamed CSEC: Communications Security Establishment Canada

2014 Renamed CSE (‘Canada’ dropped from the end of the name)

2014 New Headquarters ready on Ogilvie Road, Ottawa

CSIS Canadian Security Intelligence Service

1984 Created by an Act of Parliament: Bill C-9

1995 CSIS settled at Ogilvie Road campus, Ottawa

Canadian Spy Headquarters
Ogilvie Road, Ottawa


Ministerial Directive
Updated Collection and Use of Metadata

In 2011 Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay renewed a program (begun 2005) allowing CSEC Signals Intelligence to ‘engage in activities which risk incidental interception of private communications, which would otherwise violate the Criminal Code.’

In June 2013 a journalist via FOI legislation unearthed this Directive marked Secret.

National Defence Act, s 273.65

Cited as justification for the Directive. Note the parallel with the USA Patriot Act, s 215. Both Acts can be used to obtain business records or any other tangible thing, without probable cause. The target of a warrant need not be a national security threat.

CSE: Signals Intelligence

Cryptologic agency breaks codes and conducts electronic surveillance. Same league as NSA.

CSIS: Canadian Security Intelligence Service

Intelligence service conducts overt and covert operations. More restrained than the CIA.


Litigation: ACLU and Yale Law School

On 25 April 2013 Judge Roger Vinson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Washington D.C. signed a Top Secret Order saying: ‘The Application of the FBI for production of tangible things from Verizon satisfies the requirements. … The Custodian of Records shall produce to the NSA on an ongoing daily basis an electronic copy of: all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications (i) between the US and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the US, including local phone calls.’

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined with Yale Law School to file a motion challenging the constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the FISC cites to justify its orders.

Litigation: Freedom Watch

Former prosecutor Larry Klayman filed a class action claiming $20 billion in damages for the massive illegal seizure of phone records by the NSA under PRISM.

Plaintiffs comprise a majority of American citizens: users and subscribers of any of 12 companies complicit with NSA data-mining (AOL, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, PalTalk, Skype, Sprint, T-Mobile, Yahoo, and YouTube).

In Dec 2013 Judge Leon ruled that NSA phone surveillance is almost Orwellian in scope, and likely violates the fourth amendment.

Litigation: EPIC

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed for a Writ of Mandamus asking the Supreme Court to halt telephone surveillance, saying the NSA exceeds its authority.

Meeting of 35 Heads of Expression: Boilly

FBI Next-Generation Identification

Current Biometric Modalities

  • fingerprints (the first forensic tool)
  • DNA (extracted from blood, saliva, hair follicle)
  • palm prints (shape of palm and its vein pattern)
  • facial recognition (front-facing photo)
  • iris recognition (color pattern of the iris)
  • retina scan (blood vessel pattern at back of eye)
  • voice recognition (electronic voiceprint such as Siri)

Emerging Biometric Modalities

  • hand geometry (hand width, finger length)
  • footprints (width, length, arch of foot)
  • gait recognition (walking)
  • signature recognition (handwriting sample)
  • typing recognition (keylogger captures rhythm, speed)

Meeting of Thirty-Five Heads of Expression (by Boilly)

FBI biometrics will digitize every human face and body type, as legibly as the artist above.


Merging Whitelists with Blacklists

In 2015 the FBI merged its civil and criminal databases into a single comprehensive one. Biometric data submitted by employers for respectable background checks is now stored and searched alongside the fingerprints and mug shots taken from criminals.

FBI Civil Database:  Fingerprints and facial photos sent by employers to the FBI for basic background checks. Employees so tested include those requiring a security clearance; plus all federal and state employees, and licensed professionals such as stockbrokers, realtors, engineers, doctors, attorneys.

FBI Criminal Database:  Fingerprints and mug shots taken when a person is arrested or booked into detention at a police station.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is chilled, saying: While employers and licensers have submitted fingerprints to the FBI for decades, the FBI rarely retained that data. The few civil prints that were retained were not readily accessible or searchable.

Today that privacy wall is gone. It makes no difference whether your fingerprints match any criminal profile, or any specific criminal record. Your data is lumped in with criminals, and searched thousands of times a day by law enforcement detectives across the country. Think of the potential for error!

Tuum Est Position: The FBI could just as easily bifurcate its Next-Generation Database and keep criminal data separate from civil data.

Street-Level Surveillance (EFF)

Civil and Criminal Fingerprints Combined Into One Fully Searchable Database (EFF)

FBI Next-Generation Identification
NGI Biometric Modes
NGI Monthly Fact Sheet

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