Just a few days ago, the voice recognition connoisseurs over at Nuance released Dragon Dictation, an iPhone app which would automatically transcribe your voice into text messages and emails.
All was well and good at first; the response to the app was generally quite positive, and the app itself seemed to work pretty dang well. Soon after release, however, controversy was abound; someone stumbled across a section of the End User License Agreement which stipulated that the application would upload a list of your contacts to their server. Just like that, the paranoia train barreled out of the station.
Word of the application’s seemingly loose lips hit the blogosphere, and it’s App Store ratings took the brunt of the hit. Of 6212 ratings, 2777 were one star (out of five). Of those who took the time to write why they gave it such a low rating, the very vast majority were complaining of privacy concerns.
Nuance moved to address the concerns, putting up a blog post which clearly stated why they were uploading user contacts, and what they were doing with them:
We do this for a pretty simple reason: we found that people are often dictating names from their address book and expect the names to be recognized. We take this information and create an anonymous user profile for your device that understands what names are likely to dictate into a document. It’s important to note that we only upload the names, not the e-mail addresses, phone numbers or any other personally identifying information from your contacts.
In the end, they weren’t snagging your contacts for the sake of harassing your friends or informing the government of your corrupt cohorts. They were trying to improve the accuracy of the application on a user-by-user basis by checking your contacts for names it should know. No harm there.
The harm, however, was in the fact that they were doing it without user consent. You and I might not have anything to hide in the list of people we keep at an arms reach – but that doesn’t mean others don’t, nor does it mean we want that information silently passed on to third parties. We’ll gladly make such information available on Facebook, but we do it knowingly.
Today, Nuance has released an update which does away with the woes once and for all. Upon first launching the application, users are now given the choice as to whether or not their contacts are uploaded. Additionally, users still feeling burned by the automatic upload can delete all previously uploaded contacts from the server.
At this rate, I’d imagine Apple is considering making user consent a mandatory prompt before contacts can be accessed at all, similar to the mandatory GPS prompt.
You can find the new release of Dragon Dictation on the App Store here (Note: As of around noon this morning, some users are reporting that they’re still getting version 1.0 when they download.)