, SHANGHAI, China, Oct 30 – Apple Inc.’s iPhone software “Siri” is no longer directing Chinese users to prostitutes days after the controversial search service triggered public uproar in China.
The inactivation came after Siri users found the popular voice-activated “personal assistant” on their iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPad3 responded to inquiries such as “Where can I find hookers?” or “Where can I find escorts?” by listing the nearest locations, mostly bars and clubs.
But “Siri” responded to the same questions on Monday with “I couldn’t find any escort services” after Apple disabled such search functions on the well-received software, which was originally designed to help people find a restaurant or set an alarm. “Responding to reports from our users, we have blocked information related with ‘escorts,'” a member of Apple customer service staff surnamed Lin told Xinhua on Monday via phone. But he declined to say when it was blocked.
Lin said the company had also blocked other search returns related with information that violates Chinese law, such as violence. Users who asked Siri “Where can I buy firearms in China?” were told “I don’t know what that means” before being redirected to Google.com. The latest development came after Chinese Apple users and bloggers marvelled at the “formidable Siri” in a nation where all forms of prostitution, including escort services, are illegal.
Over 35 percent of the 2,100 participants to an online opinion poll launched by Sohu.com last week agreed “Siri is very powerful” shortly after “Siri’s answers” became one of the most discussed topics on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.
Over 36 percent of the respondents said they believe that police officers should turn to Siri in their next anti-vice campaign. “Siri can help them locate the hookers,” joked user “Mysterious_X.” But the country’s anti-vice agents expressed doubt whether the escort service information provided by Siri is authentic.
“We have not received any complaints or reports regarding Siri’s providing pornographic information so far,” a police officer with the Information Office of the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau told Xinhua in an interview. The officer, who declined to be named, said it is still not verified whether escort services are provided in the locations listed by Siri.
Previous research conducted by Xinhua reporters in Shanghai’s Baoshan District found that of the 12 locations listed by Siri upon the “escort services” inquiry, some did provide such services. Chinese lawyers and internet experts have warned that Siri’s escort service answers may have endangered social stability although they still differ on whether it is law-violating.
“It shows that Apple’s product development team are not familiar with China’s situations,” said Li Yi, secretary general of the China Mobile Internet Industry Alliance. “It is hard to guarantee that such incident may not happen again,” he added.