Siri's abortion glitch critics still waiting for a fix

Siri, the personal assistant program on the new iPhone 4S, and her parent company Apple hare getting into trouble over a peculiar inability to find abortion clinics. CBSNews.com's Chenda Ngak decided to see how Siri answers some other personal questions.
Apple

(CBS) - Last week a firestorm broke out over the iPhone 4S's personal assistant Siri's omission of abortion clinics. Groups like the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against Apple because of the broader implications of the software glitch.

A petition at SignOn.org to fix the software is still active and they've even upped their goal to 40,000, after surpassing the original 30,000 signatures. A spokesperson for SignOn told me that the petition's authors, which include former MoveOn staff member Nita Chaudhary, will present their petition to Apple once they've hit their goal and will not back down until a fix is released.

"We got over 30,000 signatures in less than 48 hours. Obviously, this is resonating with people," Chaudhary told me over the phone. She was puzzled over how Apple, who is so swift to protect their brand, could let this go so long without a fix.

"It's not a question of why. What's important is that it's affecting people now. Everyday Apple doesn't fix this, women are getting hurt. They need to apologize and give a speedy timeline," Chaudhary said. She also mention that Apple was in touch with them, but has not given concrete answers to their demands. 

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While I still believe that it is an oversight by Apple rather than a conservative conspiracy, it is curious that when Siri stumbles across an answer not in her database, she will send you to Google. Not the case when it comes to searching for an abortion.

Siri
Apple

Even more curious is that after the story hit the mainstream, we tested several phrases. On Thursday, Siri gave the same non-answer for "men's health clinic" as she did for "abortion clinic." On Friday when asked the same questions, however, instead of saying "I don't see any men's health clinics," a Google search was pulled up. The same thing happened with a search for the "morning after pill."

It seemed like a fix was in motion, but the abortion question was still not being referred to Google.

Apple told CNET via email that Siri searched various databases for keywords. For example, Yelp is used for location-based services. The problem with that answer is that when I searched Yelp for abortions, Planned Parenthood came up.

So, why is a software glitch this upsetting? Siri is still in beta and Apple acknowledges it is not perfect. Many have argued that the personal assistant was programmed to be funny and snarky, which has been a large part of its success.

"The Siri issue is a symptom of a much larger problem. Why is it that we can have ads on TV for Viagra but talking about where a woman can get birth control or an abortion is taboo? This has real consequence," Jennifer Dalven, head of ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project stated.

NARAL's president, Nancy Keenan, sent Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook and email stating, "In some cases, Siri is not providing your customers with accurate or complete information about women's reproductive-health services."

Keenan mentions reports that women in states like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia have reported being sent to "crisis pregnancy centers," which NARAL alleges has a pro-life agenda and is not a comprehensive health clinic.

Apple's chief executive officer, Tim Cook, told NARAL's president Nancy Keenan, "Our customers 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."

While Apple does promise a fix, the reproductive rights groups won't be satisfied until they see a software update.