Texting Censorship, by Apple (of Course)

On Tuesday, Apple received a patent they applied for in 2008. Officially titled “Text-based Communication Control for Personal Communication Device,” the patent describes the way Apple plans to help parents rid their children’s text messages of “objectionable content.” Many people believe this patent is geared to stop one thing: “sexting.”

Essentially, the new feature would allow the user of a phone to determine what content is “objectionable” to them and censor that content in future text messages. When said content is discovered in a text message, the objectionable words will be removed or the text will simply not be sent. The administrator, or designated user of the communication controls, will also be notified that the objectionable content was discovered.

So, what does this mean for parents and children? With this new feature, parents can monitor their kids even more than they do currently. They can set up this new communication device to look for specific words, inappropriate content, and even different languages. When those appear on the phone, the parent will be notified.

Some say that Steve Jobs and Apple are simply trying to strive for “freedom from porn,” as Jobs famously put it himself. Over the last year, Jobs has suddenly come to the forefront of the fight against internet porn, particularly on Apple products. He even insults Google and their phone because they allow users to access pornography.

Others say that Jobs is simply striving to monitor and filter the content Apple users can have access to. In other words, he is telling the owners of Apple computers and phones what to watch, read, and now, write.

The benefits from a feature such as this are numerous, and more will likely arise as time goes by. For example, the feature would allow for monitoring the amount of Spanish words used in text messages. If a child is having trouble learning Spanish, his mother might require that he used 10 Spanish words each day in his text messages.

The idea that Steve Jobs passionately fights against porn because of his moral compass is a bit simplistic and naïve. He may feel a certain opinion toward the debate, but his decisions are surely based on the company’s best interests. In the long term, Apple will likely make more profit from entire families choosing Apple products throughout their lifetime than from porn addicts. When a parent has the option to get their 12-year-old a phone with or without a communication censorship device, most would choose the ladder.

In 2010, Jobs removed approximately 6,000 “adult” apps from their app store, yet the Playboy app remains. That in itself gives insight into the moral decision making process Jobs and Apple live by. They remove apps because women are shown in bikinis, but the Playboy app showing completely nude women is okay. The apps approval process seems unfortunately similar to the Facebook “ad philosophy.” Both of them essentially tell us that they have the final word, no matter what you think or say.

More and more, Apple seems to attempt and control the content its users access on their devices. That, to me, is a huge mistake. It’s also a major danger for Apple because many of its most dedicated customers only like the products because, let’s face it, they are cool. But will that coolness factor be enough to hold the Apple customers when the Google Android allows much more freedom of content? I doubt it.

This device is on the border of becoming too much, and it will move past that border if Apple includes some list of default words that are not permitted for transmission over iPhones. Yes, I think it’s fine that parents control what their children can text. No, I don’t think it’s fine that Apple controls what children can text.

And what about that little thing called “context?” Does a parent really need to spend hours setting up the device and entering every single sexually charged phrase or slang word they can think of? Can you censor the word “bang” in a sexual context without censoring every other use of the word?

This patent is just that: a patent. Once the technology is developed and comes closer to release, we will have a much more in-depth analysis of the system and how it will be working for you. Since the patent was approved yesterday, it will probably be a while. For now, let’s just hope Steve Jobs doesn’t get caught looking at Playboy on his iPhone.

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