Many users of iPhones and iPads found that a ‘woozy face’ emoji automatically appeared when typing the word “stammering” into messages.
Stamma (the British Stammering Association) said in a July 2021 press release: “This is demeaning and damaging. Stammering is how some people talk. Treating it as a joke is stigmatising. It can leave people embarrassed about how they sound, bullied and ashamed which can affect their mental health, careers and relationships.”
Stamma contacted Apple urging it to investigate its algorithms and stop this happening. Also Stamma’s press release was picked up and the issue publicised around the world by platforms covering Apple.
On 23rd July 2021 Stamma announced that Apple has issued an iOS update to stop promoting this emoji when “stammering” is typed. That is welcome. However Stamma says Apple has not issued an apology.
More on the Stamma website: Apple woozy face (stamma.org) and Apple stops linking woozy face emoji to stammering (stamma.org).
Harassment under the Equality Act?
Under EqA s.29(3) a person (service-provider) concerned with the provision of a service to the public must not, in relation to the provision of the service, harass a person to whom they provide the service – see Services.
Harassment is broadly where a person (A) engages in unwanted conduct related to a disability (such as having this emoji appear in relation to stammering) and the conduct has the purpose or effect (here it would probably be the “effect”) of
- (a) violating another person’s (B’s) dignity, or
- (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
Here A is the service-provider and B is the customer who finds the emoji offensive etc.
Could it be argued that a customer who found this offensive was being overly sensitive (EqA s.24(6)? I would think not. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to find it offensive. The number of complaints received by Stamma (and probably Apple) tends to support that.
It would have had to be considered which company any Equality Act claim should be against, and – linked to that (eg the company may be Irish or American) – whether the claim had sufficient link with Great Britain to allow it to be brought. See Connection with Great Britain: services, potentially including the rules on information society services. Alternatively it may have been possible to claim under another country’s equality laws.