by Tom Kaneshige

What’s Behind Siri’s Anti-Abortion Stance?

Nov 30, 20113 mins
Consumer ElectronicsInternetiPhone

If you’re looking for a local abortion clinic via iPhone, don’t ask Siri. The iPhone 4S voice-enabled artificial intelligence engine just might send you to a pro-life clinic.

The Apple iPhone’s voice-enabled artificial intelligence engine, Siri, will give you the low-down on hot spots in the red light district of a city, but when it comes to finding an abortion clinic Siri draws a blank, according to recent reports.

By now, we’re all wondering: Is Apple pushing its social values on us through its technology again?


I say again, of course, because Apple vets its App Store with the same kind of social police tactics akin to those in George Orwell’s famously dark novel 1984.

Who can forget Apple’s bikini ban of 2010, which, without warning, kicked out previously authorized apps from the App Store for showing too much skin? (Oddly, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar app didn’t get caught up in the sweep.)

If you ask Siri to find a local abortion clinic in Manhattan, Siri’s response is: “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics” even though there are a lot of them, according to The New York Times. I tested Siri this morning in a suburb 30 miles east of San Francisco and received a similar response, despite the fact that a Google search turned up two nearby locations.

Ask Siri the same question in Washington D.C., and it gets worse. Not only will Siri not direct you to the nearby Planned Parenthood, but it outrageously suggests you go to 1st Choice Women’s Health Center in Virginia or Human Life Services in Pennsylvania, both anti-abortion centers, reports The Raw Story.

So what’s going on? The New York Times asked Norman Winarsky, one of the founders of Siri before it was acquired by Apple last year. He didn’t exactly put the blame on Apple for modifying Siri, rather the third-party Web services that Siri taps to get answers about local businesses.

“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,” Winarsky said.

Tech analyst Rob Enderle doesn’t let Apple off the hook so easily. Apple, he says, has avoided sensitive issues in the past and may have thought it best not to provide an answer to such a controversial topic as abortion.

Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that Apple purposely took a pro-life stance, given that Steve Jobs was considered a liberal in this regard. Perhaps an employee slipped personal views past Siri testers.

“I think it more likely this was the act of an employee who was not authorized, or an issue with one of the back-end services, as this would be a somewhat unusual search request and might not have come up in testing,” Enderle says.

Rogue behavior probably explains it best.