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As largely peaceful protests against police brutality and racial bias continue across the United States, Apple and Google have updated some of their key services to support the Black Lives Matter movement, most notably tweaking their maps and AI assistants. The tweaks offer users up-to-date information on any protest-related road changes, as well as retorts to the suggestion that “all lives matter.” These arrive alongside other changes within the pair’s collectively ubiquitous smartphone and tablet operating systems.
In Apple’s case, the changes are more than text deep. The Apple Maps app has been updated with fresh satellite imagery to reflect Washington, D.C.’s newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza, which includes massive yellow street lettering that’s visible from the sky — and immediately adjacent to the White House. National searches for Black Lives Matter within Maps now direct to the plaza, which has been one of several key protest sites in the U.S. capitol. By contrast, Google has updated its own Maps app to be text-searchable for the plaza’s location, but it is not yet featuring new satellite imagery spotlighting the protests.
Additionally, Apple’s AI assistant Siri now answers inquiries like “Do black lives matter?” with a simple “Yes” and directs users to the movement’s website. Siri also offers a strong response to the common counter “Do all lives matter?” When asked the latter question, Siri says: “‘All lives matter’ is often used in response to the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but it does not represent the same concerns.” Siri then directs users to the Black Lives Matter website, rather than facilitating searches for alternatives. A standard Siri search for information on the Black Lives Matter movement directs to a Wikipedia-based knowledge card and multiple links.
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Google Assistant’s response to “Do black lives matter?” notes that “recognizing the injustice they face is the first step toward fixing” access to “the same freedoms afforded to everyone in this country.” Under that text, an automatic Google search option appears for “How can I help the Black community?” When asked “Do all lives matter?” Google Assistant responds that “saying ‘black lives matter’ doesn’t mean that all lives don’t. It means black lives are at risk in ways others are not.” No automatic search option is provided in this case. The same responses and links appear on Android phones and within Google’s Assistant app for Apple devices.
Apple has also published a feature called “Stand Up to Racism” in its iOS, iPadOS, and macOS App Stores, in each case directing users to voter registration, news, education, and fundraising apps. Google’s Play Store has not yet been updated with a similar feature, but it’s likely that the companies will continue to improve both their OS-level offerings and app store features as the Black Lives Matter protests increase in strength and number across the world.
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