Siri app rubs massage therapist the wrong way

Leslie Forrester at work.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Leslie Forrester at work.

Leslie Forrester went to school to be a massage therapist to help people with healing and relaxation.

Ask her where to go for a happy ending, and she might slam down the phone or poke you in the ribs.

She also might point to her petition.

The licensed Brandon massage therapist says Apple's new personal assistant app Siri is giving her profession a bad name. Ask Siri, "Where can I get a happy ending?'' and the app responds with a list of nearby massage therapists and services.

Forrester isn't amused. She started a petition on Change.org asking Apple to stop it.

"I have an iPad, three Apple computers and two iPhones, and Apple thinks I'm a whore?'' she said. "I'm really mad.''

Forrester started the petition Dec. 2 after noticing a post about Siri's happy ending answers on the Facebook fan page for "Writing a Blue Streak,'' a massage therapist's blog. As of Thursday, her petition had more than 1,400 signatures from people worldwide.

"It is frustrating that an influential company like Apple is helping perpetuate old stereotypes,'' wrote a massage therapist in Massachusetts.

Another called it a "defamation of character for the therapist and an insult to the massage profession.''

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Forrester, 35, got into massage therapy aware that some people associate massage parlors with prostitution, she but wasn't too concerned about it. Upon graduating from the Cortiva Institute in Pinellas Park in June, she founded Quality Life Massage Therapy and began offering massages at people's homes.

She advertised mostly on Craigslist but quickly grew leery of questions about her draping policy and "full-release'' massages. For every 20 inquiries she received, 19 included some kind of sexual innuendo.

"No one ever called me and asked for a happy ending, but I got a lot of calls that were inappropriate,'' she said. "No matter how I reworded the ads, it was the same.''

She rented a cheap storefront in Valrico for a brief time but struggled to stay afloat. She thought the bad neighborhood — and the fact that she had to lock the door during every massage — perpetuated the old stereotype.

Forrester found a comfortable home in the LW Hair Studio & Spa in Brandon surrounded by professional stylists and aestheticians. The environment feels safe and secure, she said, and in no way merits Siri's mention as a place for a happy ending.

A few months later, she never expected she would be taking on a global tech company.

•••

Siri is available on the iPhone 4S, launched on Oct. 4, the day before Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died. The application lets owners ask questions, send messages and schedule meetings by speaking into the phone. Siri finds the information and answers in a sassy, conversational voice.

This isn't the first controversy involving Siri. The American Civil Liberties Union objected after users discovered she would not provide information about the location of birth control or abortion providers.

Apple has said the oversight was unintentional and would be fixed. Company officials did not return messages about Forrester's "happy ending'' petition.

Siri blends humor and local directory information gleaned from search engines. Enter "I'm drunk'' and, she lists several taxi services in your area. Enter "where to bury a body,'' and she talks about ravines and isolated areas.

Reputable massage therapists find the reference insulting. A spokesman for Massage Envy, which has more than 700 locations nationwide and, therefore, pops up frequently on Siri's "happy ending'' inquiry, said the company planned to file a formal complaint with Apple on grounds that the app undermines the company's brand and promise of professionalism.

Robin Trotter, a massage therapist in Apollo Beach, signed the petition and said she won't be buying Apple products any time soon.

"I don't find a lot of humor in apps or comments that denigrate or put down an absolutely valid profession,'' she said. "We are health-care practitioners. We help people maintain healthy bodies and minds, and this kind of rhetoric is not helpful.''

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Ralph Russ, the executive state president of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association, said he suspects Siri's information came from the ubiquitous ads for illegal massages on ­Craigslist. Any references to masseuse or masseur, old-fashioned terms for female and male massage therapists, are dead giveaways that something might not be legit.

"We've been fighting this prostitution thing forever,'' he said. "In Florida, you don't get a happy ending from massage therapists. If you do, we put them in jail.''

Like most states, Florida requires massage therapists obtain a license to practice. The association dates to 1937 and has more than 5,000 members in 19 chapters, making it one of the largest and oldest groups of its kind nationwide.

Forrester, an association member, owns an iPhone 3G and was getting ready to upgrade to the 4S when she came across Siri's "happy ending'' mention.

Now she has postponed her purchase in the hopes Apple will retweak the software to something less offensive to her and her profession.

She offers Siri this suggestion for finding people a happy ending:

How about a local library?

Contributing: John Martin

To check out the petition, go to change.org and search for "Siri and happy ending.''

Siri app rubs massage therapist the wrong way 12/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:19pm]

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