Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, told users Sunday night that Israeli president Reuven Rivlin “is the President of the Zionist occupation state,” following a hack into Rivlin’s Wikipedia page.
Once one user discovered the shocking response, hundred of other Twitter users verified the answer by asking their own iPhones about Rivlin. They all got the same response and then questioned whether Siri had been hacked, or whether Apple “accidentally” revealed a political — and anti-Semitic — bias through its Siri function.
— Mayer Fertig (@MayerFertig) January 19, 2020
— Michelle Sindyukov (@mischasindyukov) January 19, 2020
“Apple HACKED!” one user, @StopAntiSemites tweeted. ‘When asked who the President of #Israel is, #siri answers ‘Reuven Rivlin is the President of the Zionist Occupation State.’”
“YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY @apple?” said another. “Jews are literally being killed for being Jewish and this is the game you play??”
“Hey, if you have access to Siri, ask ‘her’ who the president of Israel is,” said yet another, who added a course of action. “Then report the problem to Apple.
Apple eventually fixed the “glitch,” but even that left users questioning Siri’s security.
“Siri is a built-in ‘intelligent assistant’ application that enables users of Apple devices to voice commands to the app in order to perform a string of tasks,” Israel’s i24 News explained. “When Siri is asked about a public figure, the answer is usually extracted from the person’s Wikipedia page.”
Because Rivlin is Israel’s president, not its prime minister — the office most closely associated with Israel’s leadership — vandalism on Rivlin’s page, which took place sometime on Saturday, i24 says, went unnoticed. That vandalism eventually made its way into the data encoded in Rivlin’s Wikipedia page, and Apple’s Siri pulled that faulty data when asked about Rivlin.
An “anonymous user named ‘The Arab Man’ hacked the Wikipedia page and edited the president’s biography, describing him as the ‘president of the Zionist occupation state,’” Ynet news says. The vandalism wasn’t limited to Rivlin’s title, and other questions elicited similarly outrageous responses, “such as depicting him as ‘the main child of Israel.’”
The “wikidata” available to Wikipedia editors shows that “The Arab Man” made the change around 11:00am on Saturday. Wikipedia deleted the vandalism sometime Saturday afternoon, according to the data, which shows a subsequent “reversion” of The Arab Man’s edits. Siri was pulling from cached information — a version of the page with the edits — according to a handful of Apple pros on social media.
“Siri has done this before in other publicized cases. It’s drawing on cached wikipedia entries, so some vandalism slips through. Apple will apologize, patch it, and promise to look into it,” one Twitter user said.
Once notified, Apple fixed the problem “within minutes,” but now it’s clear, to both users and wanna-be Wikipedia vandals, that the voice assistant’s connection to Wikipedia’s data makes further “mistakes” inevitable. Even if the Wikipedia page is eventually fixed, the damage remains for some period of time. For conservatives, the concern is two-fold: in addition to concerns about security and veracity, it now appears anyone can update Siri using Wikipedia, a website with a known, apparent leftward tilt.