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Apple defends Siri abortion, birth control omissions as unintentional

After rights groups criticized Apple for Siri's inability to field requests regarding abortion clinics and birth control, a company spokesperson has said the omissions were "not intentional," while reminding that the service is still in beta.

Reports that the new voice assistant feature on the iPhone 4S was having trouble with abortion-related results emerged earlier this week. Bloggers and rights organizations quickly voiced concern over the omission.

For instance, the ACLU took issue with the fact that Siri is able to answer questions about where to have sex or where to find a local escort service, but provides "false and misleading information about abortion" because it directs users to pregnancy crisis centers.

Responding to the criticism, Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris told The New York Times on Wednesday that the problem was simply a glitch in the product that is still being worked out.

“Our customers want to use Siri to find out all types of information, and while it can find a lot, it doesn’t always find what you want,” she said. “These are not intentional omissions meant to offend anyone, it simply means that as we bring Siri from beta to a final product, we find places where we can do better and we will in the coming weeks.”

Norman Winarsky, who co-founded Siri before Apple bought it last year, speculated that the issue could lie with third-party services that Siri draws information from. However, Winarsky noted that he is has no direct knowledge of what Apple has done with Siri since acquiring it.

“Those answers would be coming from the Web services that Siri is connecting to, not necessarily Apple,” he told the Times. “My guess at what’s happening here is that Apple has made deals with Web services that provide local business information, and Apple probably hasn’t paid much attention to all the results that come up.”

Siri has been a major selling point of the iPhone 4S, which launched in October. Analyst Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee attributed the "better than expected" reception of the handset to the new software. The iPhone 4S handily broke previous sales records in its first weekend of sales and is expected to set an all-time high this quarter.

Renewed interest in voice assistant features has prompted a number of Siri clones, many of which do not perform as well as Apple's app. For instance, a test of basic requests on an Android app that compares itself to Siri resulted in one successful web search, repeated forced closings, and multiple failures to understand commands.

Apple's competitors have downplayed Siri's abilities as nothing special. Microsoft claims to have had Siri-like capabilities in its Windows Phones for over a year with its TellMe technology, but a side-by-side comparison of the two services produced embarrassing results on the Windows Phone device.

Rival Google has compared Siri to the bumbling C3PO droid from Star Wars, while equating its own voice functionality with the computer from Star Trek's starship Enterprise. Android boss Andy Rubin said last month that he doesn't believe that phones should be assistants.