Siri Gives the In-Laws the Boot

I’m not sure how long ago it happened, but Siri stopped working when you refer to relationships that are in-laws (e.g. mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, etc.).  It used to work.  I frequently use Siri to text my mother-in-law because she helps me with renters I have in the house I’m selling.  Sometimes I won’t text her for a month or two, so I suspect that the bug was introduced sometime (to be generous) in the past couple months, maybe 3, possibly longer.

So currently, if you tell Siri something like “Tell my mother-in-law I’m running late”, Siri sends the following text to your mother: “In-law I’m running late”. Now, if I hadn’t known this worked in the past, I would have thought “Oh, Siri just doesn’t work for the in-laws because it sees ‘mother’ first”.  But I knew Siri used to be able to tell the difference between mother-in-law and mother, so after a drawn-out debugging session to see if I could fix what may have been corruption in the relationships in my contact cards (which has happened in the past – I suspect not because of me), I called Applecare and got them to help me figure this out.  Long story short, I got upped to a senior advisor and we definitively ruled out any sort of iCloud/contacts corruption and isolated the problem to Siri’s server.  The advisor then contacted engineering and they confirmed it’s a system-wide bug that affects everyone.  The advisor reproduced the bug on his phone, as did the engineers at Apple.

So if you’ve tried to text an in-law or refer to an in-law in any other context recently and failed, I’m here to tell you that this is a bug on the Siri server that they are aware of and working on.  Here are some of the symptoms you’ll experience and what I and the advisor did to figure out the issue:

I first noticed the bug while driving and running late to the house I’m selling to help prepare it for an open house.  I said something like “Tell my mother-in-law I’ll be at the house in about a half an hour”.  When I realized that Siri had sent “In-law I’ll be at the house in about a half an hour” to my mom, I tried a couple more times with the same result.  So I then asked Siri who my mother-in-law was and it correctly responded with the name of my mother-in-law.  I then asked Siri who my mother was and again, it correctly responded.  Retried the text and again, it tried to send to my mother.

So then, suspecting a relationship corruption in my contact card, I went in and deleted both the mother and mother-in-law relationships.  As a sanity check, I tried to send a text to my mother-in-law and much to my surprise, Siri tried again to send a text to my mom. I went back into the contact card and the relationships were both still there.  So I deleted them again and tried to send the text again.  This time, Siri replied somewhat as I had initially expected and told me she didn’t know who my mother was.

Then I decided to tell Siri who my mother and mother-in-law were instead of enter them manually.  I told Siri who my mother was and after responding “yes” to the confirmation question, Siri (oddly) responded twice, saying “OK, I’ve added this relationship.” then immediately also said “OK… but I already know that <correct name> is your mother.”. Siri seemed however to accept both relationship settings and when I went into my contact card to confirm, they both were correctly entered.

However, after that, the erroneous behavior changed. Siri would no longer correctly respond to the query “Who is my mother-in-law?”.  She would always respond with my mother’s name.  Also, even though I had set both relationships, when I said “Tell my mother-in-law …”, Siri responded with “OK, do you want me to remember that <mother’s name> is your mother?”.

After deciding it wasn’t going to work, I decided to test father-in-law and got the same erroneous behavior as before.  So it wasn’t an issue restricted to mothers & mothers-in-law.  Nor was it an issue of improperly hearing what I was saying because my dictated words showing up on the screen were correct.  “Mother-in-law” even had the hyphens.

So at this point, I decided to call Apple.  They had my turn off Siri and do a soft reset of the phone (holding the power and home buttons down until the phone reset.  After that, they had me install the latest waiting update.  Neither proposed solution worked.

Then a few days later, with the problem still unresolved, I decided to try to test my other devices: an iPad and my Mac Mini.  Neither would work with the mother-in-law relationship.  So I called back and that’s when I got elevated to a senior advisor (Bill), who had me try disconnecting my iCloud account, create new contacts for myself and my “moms”, tell Siri who I was, and re-create the relationships. Siri still responded incorrectly when I referred to my mother-in-law. Bill was bewildered. He couldn’t believe this was actually a real bug. Somewhat reluctantly, he referred the issue to engineering because he couldn’t think of any other possible cause to the issue than a bug on the Siri server.

A few days later, I get a call from Bill saying that engineering confirmed that the bug is on the Siri server.  He had reproduced it on his phone, as had the engineers. He told me they were working on a fix, but in the meantime, in-law relationships simply would not work.

While I have run into multiple relationship/Siri issues, this was the first time I’d actually gotten solid confirmation from Apple that it was a bug on their Siri server. I’d encountered what I’ll refer to as “duplicate hidden relationships” before during another issue I’ve blogged about in the past.  I’m not sure if that’s related, but I suspect that when I had had to delete my mother relationships twice, it was because of these duplicate hidden entries – one for my contact card and maybe one for Siri?  But that’s just speculation on my part.  Regardless, there have been multiple issues with Siri and relationships in the past and I have a few other issues on the back burner I eventually intend to bring up with Applecare.

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