Apple is finally correcting an issue with Siri that it has known about since at least 2011.
The problem has appeared when users ask the virtual assistant to show nearby facilities that offer abortion services. For years, the results have directed people toward adoption centers, which is kind of the opposite of what they were looking for.
Apple says it’s made improvements to the search algorithm since it first identified the problem, but some users are still getting the undesired suggestions.
“We came into this because it creates a stigma,” Sea Change Program executive Lauren Himiak told TechCrunch. “To have that [search result] in your face is inexcusable.” Himiak told TechCrunch. “We have women all over the country being bullied and shamed and to be redirected to an adoption center instead disregards women’s choices.”
Sea Change is a non-profit organization that combats “abortion stigma” to promote women’s reproductive rights. Himiak has been reporting the Siri and Apple Maps issue to Apple head Tim Cook and the company’s PR team since she discovered it.
The New York Times reported this problem in November 2011, a month after Siri’s debut on the iPhone 4S. At the time, an Apple representative said that the bad search results were “not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone” and said developers were working on improving the software.
It has shown some progress. A quick check on my phone as of this writing did return three local Planned Parenthood locations, but the top result was the maternity wing of a nearby hospital. I assume Siri put that one first because it is the closest to me, but it was still not what I was looking for.
TechCrunch also reports improvement with the search over the past couple of days. But an Apple spokesperson told that site that it was natural software improvement over time and not public pressure that is creating the more relevant and helpful suggestions.
This problem is not a minor inconvenience like looking for McDonald’s and only getting results for Burger King. The debate about abortion and women’s rights, and the inherent difficulty of the decision that leads to the search happening in the first place, make it hard to separate what is likely a simple error from the politics that surround it. And we’re glad people are having better experiences now, but we wonder why it took so long to reach even this point.