Alarm raised over Apple app

Updated: 2012-10-29 01:40

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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Critics want Siri fitted with filter to block its use in gaining sordid info

Parents and lawyers on Sunday urged tech giant Apple to update its Siri service to include a feature that prevents young people from accessing "distasteful" information.

The appeal has come after people in several Chinese cities reported online that the integral application can be used to search for places offering sexual services.

Siri, available for iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and several other Apple products, is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator. The reports are related to the latest version for iOS 6, the first to support the Chinese language.

Tang Hongxin, a criminal lawyer at Yingke Law Firm in Beijing, has been following the debate. He said the information supplied by Siri may not be illegal under Chinese laws and regulations, but can still pose a serious risk to youths.

"We can only believe the information on Siri is accurate and actually points to sex services," he said. "This has not been confirmed by police.

"However, the 'prostitution' addresses on Siri have affected the public order and had a negative influence. In other words, it has the potential of disobeying rules if the software cannot be improved," he said.

Tang suggested the country's supervision administrations should be prepared to intervene if needed.

Wang Xing, a lawyer at Huicheng Law Firm, agreed that the information on Siri poses legal risks and it is urgent for Apple to take technical measures to prevent more similar cases.

"If the prostitution places on Siri are correct, Apple may be suspected of disseminating distasteful information. And if the information is confirmed wrong, the company could be involved in libeling entertainment venues," he said.

A customer service employee at an Apple store in Beijing said Siri does not have the technological capability to filter information, and added that there has been no clear reply to the complaints by Chinese users from the company's headquarters in China or the United States.

"For now, all users can do, if they want to avoid their children seeing such information, is to delete it from their iPhone," he said.

Since public concern was raised over the latest Siri app, some Shanghai residents have reported venues suspected of prostitution. However, an officer who gave his name as Xia at the city's public security sub-bureau in Baoshan district said on Sunday that he did not know whether the places reported were from Siri. Investigations are under way, he said.

People around China have attempted the search on Siri after reading media reports.

Huang Ying, 30, an IT engineer in Beijing who has a 1-year-old daughter and uses an iPhone 4S, said: "I told my Siri that I wanted a prostitute, and it showed me an address list that included 15 luxurious karaoke clubs and hotels around my home in Chaoyang district.

"I was surprised and couldn't believe what it said was true."

People from Suzhou, in Jiangsu province, as well as in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, said they received similar results.

But none of the users were able to confirm that the information Siri provided was correct.

Meng Zhuo, a computer engineer responsible for online security at an NGO in Beijing, said Siri is just a technical platform or database that has no obligation to delete distasteful information.

"If users are looking for nasty information, they can have success, whether it's with Siri or other online search engines. So the key lies in how to use the technical service, not the software itself," he said.

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Zhang Kun in Shanghai contributed to this story.