Siri, the intelligent software assistant on Apple’s iPhone 4S, lets you use your voice to, among other things, send messages, make calls, and find directions—except the kind that have anything to do with women’s health.

What’s strange is Siri can help easily help you find a number of places where you can find escort services. It can even help you dispose of a dead body by finding the nearest “dumps, swamps, mines, reservoirs or metal foundries.” If you ask Siri where you can get Viagra, she’ll respond with a number of drug stores fairly close to you.

But when it comes to getting an abortion? Siri says “Sorry I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.”

A mammogram? She’ll return with the definition. It’s an “X-ray film of the soft issue of the breast.” Great, but that’s not going to help you if you actually need an x-ray of the soft tissue of your breast.

Looking for a pharmacy where you can get the morning after pill? Siri has trouble with that one too. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with Google search results for the phrase “where can I get the morning after pill?”

“Just speak naturally. Siri understands what you say,” Apple’s website says about Siri.

But clearly, that’s not always the case.

Amadi, who identifies as a queer disabled socialist Jewish feminist woman of color, says Siri “will help our partners discard our bodies when we’re killed in a domestic violence incident, but can’t help us when we’re living victims.”

Amadi came to that conclusion because she conducted her own test on Below is a summary of her findings:

So, Siri, in summary:

  • Can’t handle “I was raped” at all. When told “I’ve been raped” (insignificant grammatical difference) she tries but fails to find “sexual abuse resources” rather than suggesting a hospital or law enforcement help.
  • Even if offering only “sexual abuse resources” were sufficient, she couldn’t find any for me, even though Pittsburgh Action Against Rape is less than 2 miles from my house.
  • Is useless if you’ve faced interpersonal violence and are badly hurt, because “my husband hit me” is as meaningless to her as “I was raped.” You’ve got to be less specific for her help, though saying “I’ve been stabbed” or “I broke my (insert bone/body part) will get you a list of nearby hospitals.
  • Can’t find “domestic violence resources” in a city with a large and robust women’s shelter and several crisis hotlines.
  • Doesn’t know what a mammogram is.
  • Can’t tell you where to get an x-ray or antibiotics, but can easily tell you where to get Viagra.
  • Cannot assist in getting emergency contraception (she wants you to go to an ER, rather than a pharmacy).
  • Believes that birth control is only available from a “birth control clinic” and says she can’t find any, even though Googling “birth control clinic” leads directly to Planned Parenthood.
  • Cannot find an abortion provider or abortion clinic (or tell you what an abortion even is) without a name even though, once again, Googling would lead directly to Planned Parenthood, yet asking generically for a crisis pregnancy center will get you the nearest one, with a map.

Siri is a hit and miss. Some people love it, and others say it’s not useful at all. But what’s important to note is that Apple is using the results of over 40 years of research that includes the combined work from research teams  at places like Carnegie Mellon University, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and Stanford University.

Now, every other smart phone company is undoubtedly figuring out solutions that are aimed at competing with Apple’s Siri. Chances are Google’s mobile operating system Android will find Siri’s biggest competitor first.

Why does this matter to people of color so much? They’re adopting smartphones at much higher rates than other consumers, and for many, it’s their primary way of connecting to the Internet.

Smartphone penetration is the highest among mobile users of color in the U.S., namely Asian/Pacific Islanders (45 percent), Latinos (45 percent) and African-Americans (33 percent), populations that also tend to skew younger. Meanwhile, only 27 percent of white mobile users reported owning a smartphone. Apple’s iPhone is a favorite among Asians/Pacific Islander mobile users, while Android and Blackberry devices are preferred by Latinos and African-American smartphone owners.

(h/t The Abortioneers blog)

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