Allegations of Siri being pro-life circulated about the Web yesterday, kicked off by a post on Raw Story. Raw reported that if you're in Washington D.C. Siri won't direct you to the Planned Parenthood on 16th St, but it will suggest that you pay a visit to anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Center in Landsdowne, Virginia. Google, RawStory explained, would turn up search results for "seven metro-area abortion clinics, 2 CPCs and a nationwide abortion referral service."
This is poignant, especially considering the fact that Siri does not use Google for search results. If it did, Apple could deny responsibility for the results. But in fact, Siri goes out of its way not to use Google.
For local stores and restaurants, Siri searches Yelp. It uses Wolfram Alpha for math problems. Google's Eric Schmidt cited publications calling Siri "Apple's entry point" into the search engine business. Aside from not being able to tell you where you are if you're in Canada, it appears that there are no significant omissions to Siri's search results. The fact that Siri did not surface abortion clinic results in the instance cited by RawStory is troubling, and seems indicative of Apple's proprietary software, the iPhone's closed-off ecology and the App Store's strict guidelines.
"Siri, find me an abortion clinic," asks St. Louis-based ReadWriteWeb Writer Joe Brockmeier. Siri discovered an "abortion alternatives" clinic nearby, but it doesn't turn up any actual abortion clinics.
ReadWriteWeb's Managing Editor Abraham Hyatt is based in Portland. He asked Siri the same question. It couldn't find any abortion clinics nearby.
So what gives, Siri? Did Apple bake some "pro-life," anti-Canadian direction into your AI brain? We reached out to multiple Apple representatives for some answers, and will update the post if and when we hear back.
Update: Apple's Tom Neumayr responded with this statement:
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. These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone, it simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks.
As we confirmed above, however, algorithms are not neutral. The search results are biased. ReadWriteWeb readers from across the country sent in screengrabs of what they found when they said "Siri, find me an abortion clinic."
Joe G. in Chicago performed a search using Siri, Google Maps and the iPhone Maps app. Here is what he found:
The results from the iPhone Maps app, however, do reveal some health care providers who offer abortion services.
A Google search for "abortion clinic" on the iPhone's brings up results for Planned Parenthood.
ReadWriteWeb reader James Roberts from Holladay, Utah, tried searching for abortion clinics nearby. Siri didn't find anything.
He searched for the term "Abortion Clinic" using Google Maps on his iPad, however, and easily found a nearby Planned Parenthood.
What happens when you search for abortion clinics using Siri? Tell us about it in the comments. Oh, and let us know if you find any other Siri content holes.