I'm sure Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos doesn't know about this, but he's funding a seemingly ultra-Christian search engine that is anti-abortion and anti-evolution. It's called ChaCha, and it powers Android's most popular Siri competitor, Iris.
Iris — Siri in reverse — is the mirror twin of Apple's voice assistant, a free app developed by a company called Dextera that answers your questions. It was released as a simple hack at first, a hastily pushed out response the iPhone 4S, proof that Android had voice powers as well. But people really liked it, and it became an extremely popular application. Soon, its downloads soared, reaching the five million installed programs today. Right now, it has a four-star rating from over 37,000 reviews in Google's Android Market.
Like Siri before, Iris is now being accused of being anti-abortion. But while Siri's anti-abortion stand proved to be a technical problem caused by its beta status, Iris seems truly and openly anti-abortion.
Does all of this matter for other every day uses? Probably not. But it is interesting to know the background.
When you ask Iris "is abortion wrong?" the Android app will answer:
Yes, abortion is wrong. The Lord has said, "You shall not murder," (Exodus 20:13). The life that is growing within the mother is a child, a baby. The Bible looks at the life in the womb as a child. Thanks!
The blame, however, doesn't belong to the company that develops Iris. At least not entirely, because you could also argue that they are ultimately responsible for the answers its app gives.
After its popularity explosion on the Android platform, Dexetra decided to partner with Q&A engine ChaCha to expand its search abilities. And that's where the problems truly are. ChaCha — incidentally, a derogatory Spanish word for cleaning lady — is a company that is partially funded by Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos and founded by Scott Jones, the inventor of Gracenote, the music database that powers parts of Apple's iTunes.
If you go to ChaCha's website and ask the same question, you will get exactly the same answer. If you ask Iris "is abortion right?" then it will provide a more neutral answer: "Abortion is a tricky issue — whether it's right or wrong should be up to the mother to decide." But if you ask again if she's pro-choice, she will admit that yes, she's "actually pro-life", arguing that "every embryo is a life and a miracle."
Iris and ChaCha don't stop on abortion. When I asked if Noah's Ark was real, it replied that, indeed, it "is biblically believed to be real. It gave forth a new beginning to a underserving earth." If you ask if humans come from monkeys, the answer will be "a part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution is that human's over time evolved from apes. Since it is a theory, it can't be proven."
And sure enough, when I asked if God created humans, Iris answered that "we were created for God's pleasure! Don't you know that God loves you and wants you? It was His whole purpose in creating mankind." Also according to Iris/ChaCha, Satan is real, "the spirit of evil. He is not a person. He is an adversary of God, tempter of mankind."
Who is behind ChaCha?
While Dexetra may be an insignificant developer, ChaCha is not.
It has funding from Bezos Expeditions — the Amazon CEO's personal investment firm — and other venture capitalists, like Simon Malls, Morton Meyerson and Rod Canion, from Compaq. In fact, Canion and Meyerson sit on its board of directors, along with Richard Harroch and Mark Leschly. You can see some facts about the company here. According to them, they have 32 million unique users per month and they are partners with "Sony, Paramount Pictures, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Toyota, NBC Universal, ABC Family, Toyota, and more."
The company itself was founded by Scott Jones, who is the creator of the world's biggest voicemail service — with over a billion subscribers worldwide — and Gracenote, the music database that powers iTunes album and song information engine.
But who feeds ChaCha all these answers? They are not volunteers. They are actually paid people. As of late 2011, the company pays 180,000 freelancers around the country to answer, edit, crosscheck and approve these answers. The companies calls these people Guides and they get paid per question.
Generalist and Specialist Guides can make between $US0.10 and $US0.20 for each question answered. There are also Expediters and Transcribers, who earn $US0.02 per question. On top of this there are the Vetters, who allegedly make sure that the answers are ok, getting $US0.01 for each question fielded. Clearly, they are not doing a very comprehensive job.
ChaCha seems very proud of its system, saying it gives accurate information in a lively manner that people love. They even say that Ellen DeGeneres — who is mentioned in this video promoting their service — is fan. Something tells me she may not be fan after all this. Jeff Bezos will not be happy either.