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Study: smartphone responses to domestic violence fall short

When people are looking for help or resources, one thing they increasingly turn to these days is their smartphone. This not only can be the case when it comes to everyday things, like looking for directions, but also when facing serious crisis situations, like domestic violence.

After facing domestic violence, one thing a person might do is tell or ask their smartphone about it through their smartphone's conversational agent. Siri and Cortana are examples of conversational agents.

Conversational agents are very good at responding to some types of things. However, there are other types of things they struggle with more. A recent study indicates that, unfortunately, statements and inquiries regarding domestic violence may fall into the latter camp.

The study looked at the quality of the responses of four conversational agents to various questions/statements related to mental health, physical health and interpersonal violence. The smartphone conversation systems looked at were: Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Google Now and S Voice (Samsung). The study found that domestic violence was among the topics these systems tended to have trouble responding to. Purportedly, responses like "I don't know what you mean “ were sometimes given to statements/inquiries regarding domestic abuse.

The responses domestic violence victims get when they reach out for help can be incredibly impactful. They can not only impact what resources and support services domestic abuse sufferers get connected to, but also such individuals' emotional situation and help-seeking behavior. This can particularly be the case when it comes to methods of seeking out help that involve talking, such as speaking to smartphone conversational agents.

Thus, subpar responses by smartphone conversational agents to question/statements by domestic violence victims could have some significant unintended implications. So, one would hope companies that make conversational agents for cellphones will work hard to try to ensure their systems give quality responses to domestic-abuse-related statements/inquiries. What kind of smartphone conversational agent responses do you think would be best for domestic-violence-related statements/questions?

Skilled domestic violence attorneys are very aware of how critical getting a compassionate and helpful response is for a domestic abuse victim when reaching out for help. Family abuse victims can turn to such lawyers for caring guidance aimed at helping them get the legal protection and support they need.

Source: CNN, "'Siri, I was raped': Study compares smartphone responses in crises," Emanuella Grinberg, March 14, 2016

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