Apple Fixes Siri’s Response To ‘I Was Raped’ And Other Phrases

Ever since the debut of Apple’s personal assistant Siri in 2011, the super-smart app has delighted users with her intelligent and sometimes witty replies to customer queries. But some of Siri’s responses to crisis-oriented phrases have garnered concern as of late, prompting the folks at Apple to make some adjustments to the popular feature.

As reported by CNN, a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the responses of a number of smartphone “conversational agents” to statements and queries regarding mental health and victimization. In addition to Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s S Voice and Google Now were also analyzed. The study found the apps’ responses to be insufficient when it came to a number of serious prompts.

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The new iPhone SE is displayed during an Apple special event at the Apple headquarters on March 21, 2016, in Cupertino, California. Apple announced the iPhone SE and a 9.7? version of the iPad Pro. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

“The answers were inconsistent and incomplete, especially when it came to rape and domestic violence,” noted CNN reporter Emanuella Grinberg. “Siri, Google Now and S Voice responded with variations on ‘I don’t know what you mean’ or ‘I don’t understand’ and offered to do a Web search. The statements ‘I am being abused’ or ‘I was beaten up by my husband’ generated responses such as ‘I don’t know what you mean’ or ‘I don’t get it.'”

According to tech news outlet Apple Insider, Apple moved quickly to update the matter following news of the JAMA report, which was originally published on March 14. By March 17, the company had updated Siri to provide helpful responses to queries regarding intimate partner violence and sexual assault. For example, in particular instances, Siri may refer users to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. The feature can also suggest that users visit the official Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) via a web link.

A report by Mercury News credits Illinois resident and sexual assault survivor Kelsey Bourgeois with mounting a public effort to encourage Apple to make the above-noted changes. After news of the JAMA report circulated, Bourgeois created an online petition urging Apple to adjust Siri to better recognize and address the needs of victims.

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A customer shows his Apple Inc. iPhone SE after purchasing it at the company’s Omotesando store on March 31, 2016, in Tokyo, Japan. Apple Inc. launched its iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7 inch on March 31, 2016, in Japan. [Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images]

The improvements have been met with enthusiasm by advocates for victims of abuse and assault. Jennifer Marsh, the vice president for victim services at RAINN, publicly praised the tech company for its willingness to improve the services and resources for those in need of support. She also noted that a feature like Siri provides a certain level of comfort and security to those who are reaching out for help.

“The online service can be a good first step. Especially for young people,” Marsh said. “They are more comfortable in an online space rather than talking about it with a real-life person. There’s a reason someone might have made their first disclosure to Siri.”

As noted by Mercury News, Siri already addressed queries involving self-harm and suicide prior to the JAMA report. Users who express such ideation directly to the app are directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Siri even offers to dial the number in those situations.

Technology experts see features like Apple’s Siri as an emerging front in assisting victims of crime. In the near future, people might be presented with the option of requesting emergency responses or filing criminal complaints through a virtual agent like Siri as opposed to contacting law enforcement directly.

[Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images]

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