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When Siri is asked 'Where are the terrorists?' virtual assistant directs users to police stations; Apple apologizes


Is this an innocent glitch or something much more malevolent; a police advocate believes the latter

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Videos surfaced this week exposing a possible flaw with Siri, Apple's virtual assistant. Siri's response to a specific question about terrorists drew ire from some Apple users, claiming it was potential anti-police sentiment.

There are viral videos on social media showing people asking Siri, "Where are the terrorists?" Apple's digital personal assistant responds to the inquiry by directing users to local police departments. Videos showing examples of this possible glitch were shared on Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter, from people all across the country.

The Kings County Deputy Sheriff's Association shared a video of Siri insinuating that police departments were home to terrorists on its Facebook page.

"According to Siri and Apple, Law Enforcement are now considered terrorists," the Kings County Deputy Sheriff's Association wrote. "Folks, the KCDSA cannot even begin to explain how horrific and how angry this makes us. To be compared to terrorists who hate America and brought down our Twin Towers is one of the most degrading things we have ever seen."

Apple asserted that its virtual assistant is not spouting anti-police sentiment, but is a mistake with the interpretation. Apple apologized to anyone offended, and stated that the keyword of "terrorists" caused the confusion.

"Siri directs users to the police when they make requests that indicate emergency situations," Apple said in a statement, according to Fast Company. "In this case, Siri misinterpreted the query as users wanting to report terrorist activity to police. The issue has been fixed, and we apologize for the error."

Nate Ferrier, the president of the Kings County Deputy Sheriff's Association, questioned Apple's explanation for Siri's response. Ferrier said that when someone asks Siri, "How do I report terrorism?" The device will provide federal agencies who specialize in handling terrorism cases, including Homeland Security and the FBI, but not local law enforcement.

"It's just suspicious to me because in the season we're in, law enforcement is under a lot of scrutiny, there's a lot of anti-law enforcement rhetoric all over the place, so the timing of it is very odd," Ferrier told KMPH-TV.

When Newsweek asked, "where are the terrorists" on a U.K. iPhone, Siri replied, "I don't know how to respond to that."

Many users have noticed that Apple has already corrected the issue. Now, when you ask Siri, "where are the terrorists?" the virtual assistant replies, "I don't know how to respond to that."

Last year, Apple apologized after a whistleblower revealed that Siri routinely records private interactions, including recordings of people having sex, making drug deals, and discussing confidential medical information.

"We know that customers have been concerned by recent reports of people listening to audio Siri recordings as part of our Siri quality evaluation process — which we call grading," the iPhone manufacturer said in August 2019. "We heard their concerns, immediately suspended human grading of Siri requests and began a thorough review of our practices and policies."

Apple apologized for not "fully living up to our high ideals" and temporarily halted the Siri grading program.

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