The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Mazda, Carrier IQ, and Siri

By Corey Conley

Good: Mazda’s Skyactiv Technology

Good: Mazda's Skyactiv Technology

Mazda has made “Zoom Zoom” a key part of its identity. Mazda cars and even their SUVs usually rate higher on the fun-to-drive scale than the competition. However, the flip side of all that zooming is a less than impressive rating on the miles-per-gallon side of the equation.

With strict new federal mileage requirements coming down the pike, Mazda saw the writing on the wall. But rather than gamble on some pricey hybrid tech, they turned their attention to improving their conventional gas engines and transmissions.

The result of all this tweaking is the Skyactiv engine and transmission technology. The 2.0 liter engine rated a very respectable 40 miles per gallon on the highway (28 in the city) in at least one version of their sport compact Mazda3. While most would consider high mileage to be the real selling point, the engine’s output of 155 horsepower – a gain of 7hp over the company’s outgoing 2.0 – is the kind of “have your cake and eat it too” engineering advancement too rarely seen in the pursuit of efficiency.

This is too bad, because extra power and efficiency have a lot in common. To achieve this new level of performance, Mazda used tricks like extra compression (similar to a turbo or supercharger), performance exhaust, direct injection, and weight and friction reduction to boost efficiency.

These kind of modifications are common for performance upgrades, but instead of creating a snarling, powerful engine – the company shunted those gains to miles per gallon.

To Mazda (and Ford, whose Ford Focus engine achieves comparable results): Bravo!

Bad: Carrier IQ

Bad Carrier IQ logo

The obscure software Carrier IQ rested anonymously on roughly 150 million phones until a few weeks ago, when a security expert posted a video alleging the software collected phone use data and sent it to carriers (thus upping their “IQ,” I presume). Only AT&T and Sprint have copped to using the software, although T-Mobile also uses it.

Carrier IQ released a statement calling the transmission of personal text messages was an unintended “bug” and that the info generated was not readable by humans. The company also claimed emails, photos, and other non-SMS messages were not captured.

Naturally, people were upset at this blatant big-brotherism, and rumors say Sprint is ditching the software.

AT&T and Sprint, never missing a chance to dig a hole deeper, claimed notification of their data collection policies is clearly buried in the pages of legalese customers must sign to get their cell-phones. Clearly, the customer is not always right when it comes to the oligarchical world of mobile carriers.

Ugly: Siri’s Abortion Clinic Blindspot

As someone who occasionally admits to being a journalist, this is the kind story that makes me cringe.

Reporters for major media outlets across the nation breathlessly reported how Apple’s latest iteration of the iPhone seemingly refused to locate abortion clinics and other female reproductive services. When asked, the voice recognition and speech program “Siri” would draw a blank, even when the reporter was dutifully standing in front of abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

Ugly siri's abortion clinic screenshot

The problem is not the closet pro-life attitudes of a quintessentially west-coast company, it’s that Planned Parenthood doesn’t bill itself as an “abortion clinic.” Siri, being software, can’t read between the lines and figure out that Planned Parenthood offers abortions. Of course, if the reporter had simply asked for a Planned Parenthood, it would have kindly pointed to the building 30 yards in the background. But what fun is that?

The problem with Siri – a program still in its bug-prone beta stage, by the way – should be familiar for anyone who’s used a search engine the past few years: It’s a search program that searches other search programs. Most savvy Internet users know asking a search engine the same question two different ways can get you vastly different answers.

We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of searching for one thing and getting something entirely unexpected (and often tasteless) in our results.

Score one for tasteless.

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