“Apple is fixing a flaw in its algorithm that had been directing people seeking information about abortions to fertility centers and adoption clinics,” Christina Farr reports for Fast Company. “Apple has been aware of issues similar to these since 2011, when the media first noted that Siri, its voice recognition service, provided people searching for abortions with little or no information. In recent months, it seemed to reproductive health experts we spoke to that the problem had gotten worse. Siri and Apple Maps started to recognize the term ‘abortion,’ but muddled it with results related to adoption. ‘If Siri is silent on abortion, women will often look for information elsewhere,’ says Planned Parenthood’s vice president of health Kim Custer. ‘But suggesting an adoption clinic might add to the existing stigma about abortions.'”

“One explanation is that these changes are a result of the company’s efforts to improve its Apple Maps search results with the launch of Apple Nearby. The company has been working to more accurately categorize small and large businesses for Apple Nearby, which was released with the most recent software update,” Farr reports. “With the new Nearby feature in iOS 9, Apple confirmed that ‘typed search queries deliver more relevant results from more categories.'”

“Search experts say they still don’t see this as intentional. ‘My hunch is that this isn’t political at all, even now,’ says Sean Gourley, a data scientist and learning algorithms expert based in Silicon Valley. ‘Apple is not a search company, unlike Google, and its knowledge base is very different,'” Farr reports. “Apple Maps pulls data from third-party resources, like Yelp and Foursquare, not its own databases. Gourley, like Search Engline Land, noted that part of the problem might still be that Planned Parenthood doesn’t label itself as an abortion clinic (abortions make up 3% of all Planned Parenthood health services, according to the organization). That might explain why it was only categorized as a possible abortion provider through the efforts of the Apple Nearby team.”

“Regardless of the timeline, it is clear Apple wields a great deal of influence when it comes to reducing stigma around reproductive health,” Farr reports. “‘Apple is at the forefront of technology,’ said Christine Dehlendorf, an associate professor at the UCSF Department of Family and Community Medicine. ‘When they provide inaccurate search results, it’s stigmatizing and alienating for women who want to get the care they need.'”

Read more in the full article here.

Feminists and abortion advocates are angry, Apple’s Siri engineers must be doing something right – December 1, 2011
Apple says Siri’s abortion answers are a glitch – December 1, 2011
Apple’s Siri stumbles over an abortion question – November 30, 2011