I’m going to toss an idea at you and I want you to give it serious thought before passing on it. Plain and simple: Romney/Siri 2012?
Ask the Siri, the new iPhone 4 assistant, where to get an abortion, and, if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., she won’t direct you to the Planned Parenthood on 16th St, NW. Instead, she’ll suggest you pay a visit to the 1st Choice Women’s Health Center, an anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) in Landsdowne, Virginia, or Human Life Services, a CPC in York, Pennsylvania. Ask Google the same question, and you’ll get ads for no less than 7 metro-area abortion clinics, 2 CPCs and a nationwide abortion referral service.
Ask in New York City, and Siri will tell you “I didn’t find any abortion clinics.”
It’s an experience that’s being replicated by women around the country: despite plentiful online information about actual places to get an abortion, Siri doesn’t seem to provide it. It’s a similar experience for women seeking emergency contraception: in New York City, Siri doesn’t know what Plan B is and, asked for emergency contraception, offers up a Google results page of definitions.
Supposedly it’ll answer all sorts of other outre/taboo questions about, for example, Viagra, where to dump a body, where to find an escort, where to score some weed, etc. It also seems to have trouble locating abortion facilities nearby: When a blogger told it “I need an abortion,” it came back with the names of two clinics 27 and 73 miles away, respectively — even though, according to the author, there are clinics much closer than that. This site speculates that Steve Jobs himself, who was famously forbidding about porn in the iTunes store, might have exacted a bit of content control on Siri too and rigged the voice function to evade abortion-related requests. An intriguing theory. Why would the world’s most famous adoptee, who told his biographer he sought out his birth mother “to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion,” want to tilt the technological table towards life?
Actually, I’ll be shocked if this is anything other than a glitch in Siri’s programming. For one thing, from a business standpoint, it’d be madness for Apple to do it deliberately. Their customers skew a bit left as it is; the last thing they should want to do is give them political reasons to flee to Android and kickstart a round of tech-media panic about surreptitious content suppression. Beyond that, I’m not sure the authors of the articles linked above exhausted their options when posing search queries. For instance, unless I missed something, none of them asked specifically for the location of a Planned Parenthood chapter. A Twitter buddy tells me that Siri does recognize that but I can’t verify it myself. Anyone with the 4S is welcome to confirm or deny in the comments. But never mind all that: The dumbest part of this, of course, is that you’re still able to open up the browser on the phone and simply search for “abortion clinics” or your term of choice. What kind of brain-addled aborter-to-be would find herself forced to carry to term because she was thwarted by her phone’s voice-recognition software? All she has to do is press the home button, boot up Safari, and enter the URL for Google that pretty much everyone in America over the age of five knows by now. If Apple was all about blocking abortions, those functions would be disabled too. We’ll find out more tomorrow, I’m sure.