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 including their maps and AI assistants. The tweaks offer users up-to-date information on road changes resulting from the protests, as well as the technology companies’ retorts to the suggestion that “all lives matter,” amongst other changes visible within their 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 reflecting Washington, D.C.’s newly-named Black Lives Matter Plaza, including 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 sites of protests in the U.S. capitol. By contrast, Google has updated its own Maps app to be text-searchable for the plaza’s location, but is not yet featuring new satellite imagery spotlighting the protests.
Additionally, Apple’s AI assistant Siri now includes responses not just to simple inquiries — “do black lives matter,” which answers “yes” and directs to the movement’s website — but also a strong response to a common retort, “do all lives matter?” When asked the latter question, Siri says that “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.
Google Assistant’s response to “do black lives matter?” notes that “recognizing the injustice they face is the first step towards fixing” black 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,” 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,” and no automatic search option is provided. The same responses and links appear on both Android phones and within Google’s Assistant app for Apple devices.
Apple has also published a feature in its iOS, iPadOS, and macOS App Stores, “Stand Up to Racism,” 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 both 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.