Apple has denied intentionally omitting women’s health services and abortion clinics from its iPhone 4S Siri virtual assistant, highlighting instead the system’s beta status. Controversy around the voice-controlled system – one of the key selling points of the latest iPhone – had flared when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed out reports that it would not locate abortion clinics even when such facilities were nearby. Meanwhile, so-called “pregnancy crisis centers” – which do not provide abortions but, the ACLU claims, are intended to force a “pro-life” message – were identified.
“These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone” Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris told the NYTimes. “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.”
It’s unclear whether that means Apple intends to add women’s health services to the catalog of services the iPhone 4S can locate using Siri, something which seems equally likely to enrage the vocal players in the ongoing abortion debate. The company may have hoped it could bypass the issue, but activists could end up arguing that there is a difference between finding results flagged on a Google Maps search and being instructed where they are via Siri and then offered directions there.
“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” Kerris said of the system, though didn’t make any comment on when – or if – it might be expanded. Since the brains behind the service live on Apple’s own servers, the Siri app on the iPhone 4S being merely a front-end, the company can update its databases without users necessarily realizing changes have been made.