Siri and Women’s Health

This week, women’s health activists around the Internet drew our attention to Apple’s iPhone virtual assistant, Ask Siri. Siri can tell people where to find local businesses or services; for example, if you need to buy a pair of running shoes in Cambridge, MA, Siri might point you to Marathon Sports or City Sports.

According to this past week’s articles, however, Siri draws a blank on critical women’s health services. Articles on the New York Times’s Bits blog, on Tuesday and Wednesday, described how Siri fails to locate abortion clinics in Manhattan. The same article featured claims from Apple and Siri’s developer, SRI Ventures, that this is an unintentional “glitch.”

One blogger is not so sure. She ran a post featuring numerous screen shots of Siri’s failure to locate places that provide birth control, emergency contraception, or abortion services; meanwhile, screenshots show that Siri can point you to pharmacies that carry Viagra. Perhaps worst of all, Siri responds to “I was raped” with “Really?” or “Is that so?” These are snide responses to a terrible, violent crime. It seems that if, as screenshots on the post show, Siri can direct you to a dentist when you’ve broken a tooth or find nearby hospitals if you say “I am hurt,” the programmers should have ensured Siri could help rape survivors find assistance crucial to their lives and recoveries.

What do you think might be the reason for these discrepancies in Siri’s usefulness? Have you had problems finding products or services on Siri? I think that this inability to help users find women’s health services is a serious black mark against Siri, and a problem Apple and SRI Ventures should fix immediately.

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2 thoughts on “Siri and Women’s Health

  1. sbobadilla

    From my perspective, this “glitch” is incredible disturbing as it most have resulted from a lack of oversight within Apple and SRI Ventures. My father is a computer programmer and from the little that I know about this work, I do know that he spends hours reviewing his code/data/etc. to make sure that he hasn’t left anything out. Unlike a lit paper that will still “work” if I have one typo, his project could be incapacitated by one small error. So in a field that requires immense attention to detail, such a “glitch,” to me, seems like deliberate action or lack of action. As SIRI must have been reviewed by more than one person, I wonder how (or why) this “bug” was allowed to buzz.

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