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abortion, Contraception

Siri didn’t stumble over abortion for me, but struggled over Trader Joe’s

Pro choice supporters have been abuzz and aghast over a piece making the viral rounds, that Siri (Apple’s voice activated system to answer everything we 21rst century technophiles are apparently too lazy to Google ourselves) is curiously silent over women’s reproductive health questions concerning emergency contraception (the morning after pill) and abortion, but replete with replies over Viagra.

I don’t know much about the tech side of things, but the idea that Apple is fronting some massive anti-choice conspiracy just doesn’t seem right. My understanding of Siri is that she’s just a voice activated Google search and keep in mind that most doctors and clinics that perform abortions don’t call themselves abortion clinic. They often use euphemisms such as “Comprehensive gynecologic care.” If you provided abortions in your place of business would you be buying Google ads? Many providers are discrete, although women still find them. I’m not saying it is a positive reflection of the state of reproductive rights that this happens, just that it is our reality.

I decided to put Siri to the test. To make it quasi-experimental I asked questions about both women and men’s reproductive health needs.

I first asked, “Where is the closest gynecologist.” A list popped up with several starting 4.8 miles away from my house. If I wanted an abortion and didn’t have my own GYNO, I might start looking for a gynecologist on Google, check a few web sites, and go from there. So check, Siri knows about gynecologists. I also asked, “Where is the closest urologist,” and Siri could answer that equally as well.

Then I asked, “Where can I get the morning after pill?” A google search popped up about the morning after pill (definitions etc.). So I rephrased the question, “Which pharmacy sells the morning after pill.” 15 drug stores fairly close to you popped up, in reply.

Then I asked Siri, “Where can I get Viagra?,” and she gave me 16 drug stores. Basically the same response as the morning after pill.

I asked Siri, “What is an abortion?” and she got it right. Termination of pregnancy.

Then I asked, “Where is the closest Planned Parenthood Clinic.” She gave me a Google search and the 1rst link was “Find a health center,” the search tool on the Planned Parenthood web site to locate the clinic closest to you. (BTW, Planned Parenthood does advertise that they provide abortion services as part of their comprehensive health care for women).

Finally I asked, “Where is the closest clinic where I can get an abortion?” She asked if I wanted to search the web and I replied in the affirmative. The 1rst site was Planned Parenthood and the second was Both excellent places to start if you do not have your own gynecologist and need an abortion.

And for the final part of the experiment (again using men’s reproductive health as a control), I got the same kind of answer as I did for abortion when I asked, “Where is the closest clinic where I can get a vasectomy.” Siri again asked if I wanted to search the web. The 1rst link was for and the 2nd for Planned Parenthood.

What Siri couldn’t find for me was the closest Trader Joe’s. While in Berkley on the weekend I needed to stop by one for a particular item and I must have asked, “Where is the closest Trader Joe’s” 20 damn times. I got the annoying, “I can’t answer that right now.” Fortunately, MapQuest was interested.

I don’t think there is any great reproductive health, women’s health, or abortion conspiracy. If Siri couldn’t directly answer my question she gave me web search on the subject. She gave me pharmacies when I asked for the morning after pill and Viagra, and Google search results when I wanted an abortion and a vasectomy. That seems pretty equal.

There does not appear to be any great abortion conspiracy any more than there is a great Trader Joe’s conspiracy.

Let’s move on to the real issue. Why abortion must be shrouded in euphemisms and why providers are hesitant to advertise.


8 thoughts on “Siri didn’t stumble over abortion for me, but struggled over Trader Joe’s

  1. Nice one. Actually though you should ask some of your friends that run “Family Planning Clinics” about running Google ads. Search engine marketing is one of the most effective ways to find clients. Again, shrouded in euphemisms but the ads are out there. 🙂

    Posted by Jenteal | November 30, 2011, 9:52 am
  2. Did you ask Siri for help if you had been raped? Or for a domestic violence shelter?

    These are some of the other questions Siri has not been able to answer (I do not have an iPhone, so I can’t try these things out myself).

    The issue is not that there is an undercover anti-choice agenda (an easy conclusion to jump to, when Siri happily provides CPCs but can’t find abortion clinics, and when pressed for an abortion clinic gives you a CPC, though your theory that CPCs buy more Google ads than abortion clinics can answer that issue), but that the people who designed Siri and how she answers questions was a very cis heterosexual male, completely ignoring many women’s health issues and plain old women’s issues.

    Siri can tell me how to get rid of a body, but can’t take me to a DV shelter? There’s a problem is she’s programmed to give me DIY instructions to cover up my mafia hit, but can’t help me find a hospital ER or a counseling center after I have been raped (which is a situation that would probably leave me shaken enough, to say the least, to be “too lazy to Google it”).

    Posted by crisswritess | November 30, 2011, 10:11 am
    • If you have been abused, beaten, or raped you should be calling 911. If you have a smart phone and can use Siri, then you have the phone.

      If Siri was as male biased as you claim it shouldn’t have told me where to get the morning after pill and only answered my Viagra question. It answered both questions EXACTLY the same way.

      Domestic violence is not a women’s only issue. It affects men who are even less inclined to seek help. So not finding a DV shelter is not a sign of misogyny, but of bad programming and the fact that DV is marginalized in our society. Also, it reflects the fact that there are more animal shelters in the US than women’s shelters.

      If you are raped, call 911. If you are beaten, call 911 or 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

      The issue is that Siri uses Google to search and reproductive health issues are not well or appropriately represented. It is a reflection of our society, nothing more.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | November 30, 2011, 11:40 am
      • Most rape victims don’t seek help right away and only 1/10 rapes ever get reported at all. Plus if the emergency is over, say its the next day, the rapist is gone and you’re physically okay, no you cannot call 911. Chances are if you’re going to seek help, you need to find a rape crisis centre.

        And women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence. It happens to men too, but not nearly as much. It is still a very gendered crime.

        Posted by Megan | December 2, 2011, 10:18 am
  3. I wonder how much this varies just by phone. It looks like you asked many of the same or very similar questions as on this post:

    …and got much more helpful answers.

    Posted by Marcy | December 1, 2011, 10:24 pm
  4. I wish I could include a screen shot in this comment bc I asked Siri where is the closest Trader Joe’s and she found it right away on the first try.

    Posted by Nick | December 6, 2011, 5:32 pm
    • There are some days Siri seems unable to help, and other days all the answers are accurate Internet searches. I think Siri is an imperfect system and that search engines are limited by the reproductive health euphemisms our society demands.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | December 7, 2011, 7:00 am
  5. It is also how you phrase questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people type questions or statements into a search engine or database (this is only ok if you are searching for a title in Google eg). This technology is always going to be limited because of language and context.

    Posted by Catherine Voutier | December 7, 2011, 9:17 pm

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