Is Siri Anti-China? Chinese Olympic Fans Seem to Think So After Apple Gold Medal Blunder

iPhone Apps and Siri on Home Screen Credit: Miguel Tomás / Unsplash
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While Siri packs in a lot of cool features, nobody in their right mind would argue that Apple’s voice assistant is even close to perfect, but it appears that Olympic enthusiasts in China are suggesting a more sinister motive on Apple’s part after a recent gaffe failed to report gold medal results for the country’s Olympic teams.

According to the South China Morning Post, social media users in China became outraged this week when Siri excluded their country from the Olympic gold medal counts. Multiple users posted photos and videos on Weibo, China’s biggest social media network, showing how Siri happily reported the results for everybody except for China, which at the time was tied with the US for 10 gold medals.

When asked for the count, Siri happily reported that Japan had won 11 gold medals, along with 10 for the US and seven for Russia, skipping over China entirely, despite that country having the same medal count as the US.

The problem was allegedly caused by a bug in Siri that caused it to only read out the name of a single country when two or more were tied for the same medal count, and Apple quickly addressed the problem only a few hours later. However, this didn’t stop Chinese social media users from accusing the iPhone maker of programming anti-China bias into its voice assistant.

Even after becoming aware of the bug, many Chinese Olympic fans still accused Apple of deliberately showing preference by having Siri choose to read out the US results exclusively in the case of a tie, suggesting that this still showed a deliberate and wilful bias against China on Apple’s part.

However, since it was almost certainly never Apple’s intent to only read out the results for a single country in the event of a tie, it’s hard to say why Siri chose to mention only the US in this case. While it could be related to Apple being a US company, it could also simply be a matter of Siri’s algorithm picking the first entry it finds, although it’s worth noting that China’s tenth gold medal, which was won in the women’s Rowing Quadruple sculls, came earlier in the day than the US gold for women’s 3×3 basketball.

Apple in China

Despite skyrocketing sales in China, many Chinese citizens still take a cynical view of Apple as being “anti-China.”

Much of that likely comes from the US-China Trade Wars that became heated under the Trump administration, but still haven’t entirely cooled off. As one of the most prominent and visible US companies, Apple bore much of the brunt of the anti-US sentiment during that era, and many people don’t easily forget.

When the Trump administration imposed numerous sanctions against Huawei two years ago, Apple was seen as the natural antithesis and became a focal point for everything that people in China saw wrong with US trade policies. This led to a strong nationalist sentiment in favour of Huawei, with massive boycotts against Apple products.

It also doesn’t help that some US lawmakers have pointedly been calling on Apple to exit China entirely in recent months, calling Apple’s relationship with the Chinese government “extremely alarming” and accusing the company of being “a pawn in China’s malfeasance.”

There’s also the fact that even though Apple’s products remain extremely popular in China, most of the company’s services don’t extend beyond the Great Firewall. While this is undoubtedly a result of the Chinese government’s restrictions, which have also frequently forced Apple to remove games and other apps from the App Store, it’s understandable how many Chinese citizens could feel like they’re being treated like second-class citizens by the company, choosing to lay the blame at Apple’s feet rather than looking to their own government.

Apple has not yet commented on the accusations of bias, however they also haven’t extended beyond an uproar among private citizens on social media. Either way, the problem Siri was having has since been fixed, and with China having gained nine more gold medals over the US in the past two days, it’s no longer much of a problem anyway.

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