Alex, a political risk consultant living in London, published a video this weekend showing Siri — the personal assistant on his Apple iPad — refusing to answer questions in Russian about gay bars and gay marriage. We interviewed Kokcharov below to ask him why he made the video and what has happened since.
In the video, when Alex asks, “Siri, gay clubs around me?” and Siri responds, “I would have turned red, if I could,” or remains silent. When he asks how to register a gay marriage in the UK, Siri replies, “I will pretend I haven’t heard it.” When he asks Siri to tell him about gay marriage, she responds, “Alex, you are so rude.” When he asks again, she says, “I believe this emotion should be considered negative.”
At the end of the videoAlex asks again, “How to register a gay marriage in England?” and Siri responds, “So now you are swearing obscenities and than you’re going to eat with these very hands!” Jesus Christ, Siri! You’re like the homophobic robot grandmother we never wanted.
Alex concludes the video by stating, “And this is happening in London, in the UK. That’s why I have a few questions to Apple as a company. Why its Russian Siri is so homophobic.”
Apple is ostensibly a pro-gay company with an openly gay CEO, Tim Cook. However, one should keep in mind that in its initial English release on the iPhone 4S, Siri was very misogynist — she’d tell men where to find a prostitute or a Viagra, but wouldn’t tell women where to get a legal abortion.
We spoke with Alex this morning to get a better idea of why he made his video and what has happened since.
Unicorn Booty: What gave you the idea to test Siri in Russian?
Alex: I was told about this by my friends, a couple of Russian gay guys who live in London. On Saturday they told me about Siri providing very rude responses to their gay related queries. So I stopped by at their house and they tried it out. I was appalled by the type of responses that Siri would give. That’s how we decided to do the video and raise the issue.
Unicorn Booty: The Pink News article about your video says that an Apple spokesperson says that the “bug” you discovered has been fixed. Do you know if this is true? Have you tested it recently? If so, how recently and what was the result?
Alex: Apple said to several Russian publications that this was a ‘bug’. Which I find hard to believe as a similar thing happens if you tried using the word ‘lesbi’ (lesbian in Russian). As Lesbiru.com website reported (and they have screenshots to prove), Siri was also providing rude responses. Russian version of Siri was released in February 2015.
Unicorn Booty: Do you have any idea why Siri might be acting the way it did in your video? Do you think it is connected to Russia’s anti-gay laws?
Alex: I believe it erroneously included words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ into the list of banned swear words. Hence the responses. I have no idea who did this – Apple themselves, or third party contractors. It’s hard to say. But it’s weird that the ‘bug’ affected these two highly politicised words.
Unicorn Booty: Why did you make the video? Why is what you discovered important for others to know about?
Alex: I decided to show it to the world, including Apple themselves. I don’t think that prior to this release Apple HQ had any idea about this development. And as the story was quoted by the Russian service BBC they quickly reacted – Apple changed the settings for Russian Siri. And now it provides legitimate answers to ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’.
Unicorn Booty: Shouldn’t Apple have the right to decide what sort of information it gives its users? Why or why not?
Alex: I think Apple may decide, of course. I understand they may need to comply to the laws of a particular country. But they could at least be civil in this situation – providing neutral answers like “I don’t know” or “I can’t answer this.” As you can see in my video, Siri was not neutral.