Apple Censorship: Coming Soon to Your Text Messages?

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A new patent the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just approved was filed in 2008 by Apple and prevents users from sending and receiving “objectionable” text messages. The patent (via Gizmodo), officially called “Text-based communication control for personal communication device,” essentially prevents what’s known as “sexting.”

Steve Jobs is known for his stance regarding sexual content in the App Store. Essentially, he wants to keep it clean, so that most content is family-friendly. There are notable exceptions, like the official Playboy app, but generally speaking, nudity and sexuality are a no-no for iOS apps. If that’s not enough, worried parents can lock their kids devices down, restricting access to certain types of content, or to the App Store or Safari altogether.

Apple’s ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable in the App Store have led to some controversial decisions regarding which apps get banned or disallowed in the past. For some, it seems inappropriate that a company can decide what you should and shouldn’t do with your device once you own it.

The new patent takes that a step further. If this tech ever makes it way to your smartphone, it could theoretically alert a user, admin, or other designated individual whenever objectionable content appears in a text message. In practice, that could mean a parent gets a text when their teenage son writes something racy, or that your boss gets a notice whenever you swear in an outbound communication.

According to the patent, the iPhone could also offer suggestions with which to replace the offending text, or just delete it outright as soon as you’re done typing so that it never gets sent in the first place. In effect, that means it could actually change what you’re going to say.

Now I’m not against parents protecting their kids from potentially dangerous situations. That makes sense. But putting this degree of control over something as basic as what you can say with a direct communication device frightens me. Sure, this would probably end up residing in the Restrictions section of the iOS Setting menu, but even just the fact that it would be there would invite things like use by employers to monitor employee texting even more closely than I’m sure many already do, something I definitely don’t approve of.

What do you think? Is this a feature you’d welcome, or an example of Apple going too far?

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