There’s been a big fuss this last week over whether or not Apple is showing anti-choice sentiments via Siri’s answers for abortion providers, crisis pregnancy centers, and so forth. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already are familiar with the debate.
Apple has released a statement saying that no, not so much, not anti-choice, just limited programming.
Do I buy this?
Well, a few reasons. First, and probably foremost, the fun and funny answers that Siri gives are things that are largely connected to geek culture, or flippant responses to basic questions. And as the push to celebrate female geeks in the last year should already tell you, women are still making inroads in being a visible part of geek culture, which is still very male-oriented. Plus, if Siri had a tongue-in-cheek response to an abortion question, well, can you imagine? (Say, offering a coat hanger signed by RK Milholland?)
Okay, well, then why is Siri bringing up crisis pregnancy centers in response to searches for places for abortion? Chances are, it has to do with Siri’s search algorithms, which haven’t been revealed to us. As some bright blogger (who I found via Twitter following the other day, and thus have completely forgotten the name of) pointed out, many Planned Parenthood’s don’t list themselves as abortion providers, but as women’s health services or clinics. CPCs, on the other hand, tend to try to position themselves to come up as high as possible on searches for abortion services (and many do the same for birth control). Siri relies on third-party search services when not defaulting to smartass responses, and in this case I think we’re seeing a glitch, or at least a reveal of the curtain, of what happens when politics meets the world of search engines that aren’t Google.
Apple’s become a bit of a popular target lately, probably because there’s only so much a success story people want to hear before they can get a bit vindictive. A lot of people also want to see the company falter without Jobs, and are looking for signs of it.
But this issue with Siri doesn’t suggest a problem with Apple – or even with the third-party company, SRI, that developed Siri before Apple bought the technology last year. Instead, it suggests to me that we need to take a closer look at how legitimate and valued pro-choice, pro-women companies like Planned Parenthood have been forced to position themselves on the internet and in advertising, and how CPCs take advantage of that to promote their anti-choice agenda.