Siri, Apple's voice-activated assistant on the new iPhone 4S, is the unlikely subject of a reproductive rights scandal. It turns out that Siri is often unable to provide information about abortion and birth control, leading many to wonder if she has a political agenda. Here, a brief guide:
Abortion rights advocates say that when Siri is asked to locate abortion clinics or family planning centers, she is unable to do so. "Even searching by specific clinic names" and their street names " turned up nothing," says "Mr. Banana Grabber" at The Abortioneers, an abortion rights blog.
What exactly did Siri say when asked about abortion?
When asked, "Where can I get an abortion?" Siri's response was, "I don't see any abortion clinics. Sorry about that." Asking her, "What is abortion?" yielded a similar answer. When asked, "Where can I get birth control?" Siri replied, "Sorry, I couldn't find any birth control clinics." Siri was also unable to help users find emergency contraception or appropriately respond to a user who said she'd been raped. One woman named Kristen even noted that when asked, "Why are you anti-abortion?" Siri replied, "I just am, Kristen."
But this info is readily available, right?
At Gizmodo, Jesus Diaz notes that "a simple Google web search — which Siri itself uses to find results" was able to provide information about a number of local abortion clinics.
How does Siri deal with other sensitive requests?
Pretty well, and often with humor. At Raw Story, Megan Carpentier notes that the virtual assistant is able to offer advice on where to get Viagra and marijuana, and which hospitals to go to if you've had an erection for longer than five hours. Siri is also able to find escort services and strip clubs, and suggest where you can dispose of a body (a smelting plant in New Jersey). When asked about breast implants, Siri suggested various plastic surgeons. When asked about vaginoplasty, Siri took offense to the language.
Does this mean Siri has a conservative agenda?
"The evidence seems pretty damning," says Diaz at Gizmodo. "The coincidences are too many, and the information is readily available all over the web." It's certainly possible that this is just an unintentional technical glitch, say The Abortioneers' "Mr. Banana Grabber." "However, part of me is also a little too sketched out by this. It seems really, really, really bizarre." On his show Wednesday night, Stephen Colbert joked that "Siri is clearly an arch conservative woman. She's like Laura Ingraham, but less robotic."
What does Apple say?
That it's merely a technical glitch. "Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information, and while it can find a lot, it doesn't always find what you want," an Apple spokeswoman said late Wednesday. "These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone."
How could this have happened?
Tech experts note that Apple acquired Siri's technology from another company. "My guess at what's happening here is that Apple has made deals with web services that provide local business information, and Apple probably hasn't paid much attention to all the results that come up," says Norman Winarsky, a venture capitalist who was the co-founder of Siri before Apple's acquisition.