Alexa, what is the capital of Israel?

The status of Jerusalem has been in the news a lot in the last few weeks, since Donald Trump confirmed the US now recognize the city as capital of Israel. And the recent UN voting on rejecting the recognition.

If maps and location-based services present unexpected challenges in a disputed territory to the developer who targets an international audience, voice services are the new frontier.

While preparing a few examples for my talk at Codemotion Berlin last October,  I asked Alexa (in German) the question “Alexa, what is the capital of Israel?”

And on October 3rd, the answer was

Die Hauptstadt von Israel ist Jerusalem

that translates in a short, direct but controversial

The capital of Israel is Jerusalem

An answer that might upset a significant number of users of the Amazon service. Apparently while Mr Trump followed the advice from Alexa, Amazon rectified the answer in the meantime. Asking the very same question today, you have a longer

Israel hat Jerusalem zu seiner Hauptstadt erklaert, diese wird jedoch nicht von allen Staaten anerkannt

that translates in

Israel has declared Jerusalem to be its capital, but it is not recognized by all states

Someone might argue that actually most states do not recognize it but it is definitely a more accurate answer than the initial one and that targets a wider audience.

This is something easier to address in a voice service than a geolocation decoding challenge,  but it is still an example of the problems that a software developer has to face to target an international in a disputed territory.