Apple says bug turned Russian Siri homophobic

Russian users of Apple’s virtual personal assistant Siri have been receiving some unusual responses to questions about homosexuality.

A Russian speaker posted a video to YouTube last week showing that Siri reacts with a mixture of confusion and barely disguised prejudice when asked about gays.

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When asked if there were any gay clubs nearby, Siri replied, “I would have turned red (blushed) if I could” and when asked about gay marriage responds with, “I will pretend I haven’t heard it.” Siri also accuses the questioner of using obscene language when referring to homosexuality.

When questioned on the issue, Apple claims that the answers were the result of a technical bug, which has since been fixed. However, many have suggested that Siri’s responses were deliberately homophobic in order to comply with Russian law. Same-sex couples in Russia are ineligible for the same legal protection afforded to heterosexual couples and there are no laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the country up until 1999.

The YouTube user, known as Alex, behind the video told BBC Trending that Siri’s attitude towards gays was discovered accidentally.

"I was out with friends who'd updated their phones to the latest version of iOS," he said. "Russian Siri was one of the new features available. So we made queries using the word 'gay' and got very weird replies. We also got similar responses with the word 'lesbian'."

Although multi-national technology firms having to adjust their services to meet domestic regulations is nothing new, Apple will face particular criticism over the fact that Siri responded negatively to questions about homosexuality even outside of Russia. In fact, the user simply had to switch Siri to the Russian language setting.

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"I can understand if a company needs to adapt to the legislation of a country," says Alex. "Apple fixed it. But there hasn't been an explanation as to how it happened in the first place."