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BLOG: Rush Limbaugh, Siri, and the wrath of the technocrati

John Cox | April 20, 2012
On his Tuesday radio broadcast, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh described a technical problem with his iPhone and Apple's Siri voice assistant, encountered on his drive to work that morning.

He finally reaches the office, and connects his iPhone to the internal Wi-Fi network, and starts dictating: "it's flawless. It's perfect. It was only in my car that this happened."

He types up a brief account of what happened and emails it to "some computer people" asking for feedback. "I said, 'What could possibly explain this?' And the answers I got back ranged from, "You've been hacked," to, "Somebody got into your car," to, "Somebody's tampered with the Bluetooth module." Other suggestions, he says, were "Somebody's done something. They're sending you a message that they can do it," "Your Bluetooth module is so totally defective that you need a new one," and "There's something wrong with the LTE hotspot."

Limbaugh's response is interesting: "There was no answer that was satisfactory."

He didn't expand on why he found them unsatisfactory. But it's clear that the suggestion he'd been hacked was one of the suggestions he found unsatisfying to explain the events he encountered.

He notes again that Siri works by offloading the voice transcription to backend servers. Given that fact, he then wonders "Could it be that somebody at Apple can ID my phone, knows when I'm voice transcribing and can send something back? Could that possibly be? Who knows? I have no idea."

The issue of what information Apple collects and stores from iPhone and iPad users, including what Siri adds to that information, has been a persistent Internet meme.

"I don't have any other theories, but I sent this off to two people [the aforementioned 'computer people?'] who might, and none of them could believe it but they then started trying to explain it to me what various things could exist to explain this," Limbaugh says. "But it was the first two [text transcriptions] that came back that specifically mentioned Obama."

He says a bit later, "But the most common suggestion I got from the people I sent it to was, 'You've got a Bluetooth problem here. There's something wrong with Bluetooth.' That may be, but for ["]Obama and his minions["] to end up in a translated voice-to-text message when I didn't say Obama, I didn't say minions, I didn't say anything about any of that, the dictation's never been that far off."

But the blogosphere drew its own conclusions. "Rush Limbaugh: My iPhone 4S Was Hacked," was the headline at AppAdvice. "Rush Limbaugh Says Obama's Minions Hacked Siri," was the headline for Buster Heine's story at CultOfMac.

Heine declares that Limbaugh "thinks the main culprit is Obama's minions trying to give him the spooks. I wish we were creative enough to make this up, but it's a "true" story.... if by true, you mean that Rush Limbaugh actually said something this wacky." In fact, as the show's transcript makes clear, Limbaugh doesn't think that and didn't say it.


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