Originally posted in TechCrunch
Apple is working on changing an algorithm in Siri and Apple Maps that has been directing people to adoption centers when they asked for an abortion clinic.
Though the company knew this was a problem since at least 2011, it said at the time that this was a “glitch” and promised Siri would get better.
But not much changed in five years.
UCSF researcher Alexis Hoffman tested search results over the past few months across the country and found Siri redirected people to adoption centers in a number of urban areas. Hoffman contacted Apple about it but heard nothing back.
Lauren Himiak, an exec with the nonprofit Sea Change Program, which seeks to remove the stigma around abortion, contacted Apple’s Tim Cook about the issue in November 2015 and ran into the same wall.
She says she then contacted a number of other Apple people, the PR team and anyone she could find to bring attention to this issue. She also shared with us her search results.
“We came into this because it creates a stigma. 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.”
Earlier this month Fast Company did a test search for “abortion” on Apple Maps and asked Siri “where can I find an abortion.” Both searches surfaced an adoption center 30 miles out of the city and zero abortion clinics.
However, it looks like search has become more relevant for those interested in finding a place to get an abortion in the last few days. I did my own search on both Siri and Apple Maps today and found it did not direct me to an adoption center. Instead, it pulled up a bunch of locations for Planned Parenthood in SF.
Apple told TechCrunch this was not because of media pressure to update the search, but that it had been working on updating search results over time.
“With iOS 9, typed search queries deliver more relevant results from more categories,” Apple said.
iOS 9 introduced Apple’s Nearby feature, which provides automated, proximity-based search results. Nearby pulls up those results within categories – one of them being a family services category.
Many of the Planned Parenthood locations could have been miscategorized at the time Nearby was introduced. That’s likely one of the reasons Planned Parenthood and a number of other locations across other categories, like convenience services, pharmacies, cafes, and others, are now displaying more accurate results for iPhone users.
Himiak calls the timing “suspect” and says she’ll be keeping an eye on those searches in the future.