Apple takes heat for Siri’s misleading abortion advice

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 17:21 EDT
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Apple is facing pressure to update its Siri software — the virtual assistant on Apple’s new iPhone 4S — after Raw Story and numerous other media outlets reported the artificial intelligence is apparently not pro-choice.

The Siri can help locate strip clubs and escort services, but when asked to find a nearby abortion clinic it only responds with a list of distant crisis pregnancy centers.

“Many of these centers are not up front about their anti-abortion, anti-contraception agenda when advertising online or in other channels,” Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, noted in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Siri is a great tool that mixes humor and sarcasm in responding to questions—and it is another example of how your company is on the cutting edge of demonstrating how technology can transform the way we share and access information,” she said. “Thus, it is disappointing to read that a tool like Siri is missing the mark when it comes to providing information about such personal health issues as abortion care and contraception.”

“Although Siri is not the principal resource for women’s health care, I hope you agree that it is important that the women who are using this application not be misled about their pregnancy-related options.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has also started a petition asking Apple to fix the problem in future versions of Siri. “I urge you to correct this glitch, so Siri provides the same service to women seeking information about vital reproductive health care services as to users seeking Viagra, burgers, and other services,” the petition states.

In addition, at least two petitions have already been started on Change.org: “Siri, why won’t you help me find family planning services?” and “Teach Siri how to help women find the information they need.” Both petitions each have more than a thousand signatures.

But not everyone is upset. Brandi Swindell, Founder and President of the crisis pregnancy center Stanton Healthcare, has praised Apple.

“We applaud Apple iPhone’s 4S Siri and are thrilled that Siri does not list or refer to abortion clinics. Numerous lives will be saved as a direct result. Siri is setting the standard for all organizations — no one should ever refer anyone to get an abortion.”

Norman Winarsky, who co-founded the firm that developed Siri and sold it to Apple in 2010, told the New York Times that the third-party services Siri uses to generate its answers were probably to blame for the software’s anti-abortion bias.

“Those answers would be coming from the Web services that Siri is connecting to, not necessarily Apple,” he said. “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.”

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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