First Apple CEO Steve Jobs told me that if I wanted porn on my mobile, I’d have to buy an Android phone. He even went so far as to say that Apple has a “moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone,” as if a producer of vanity electronics has the right to dictate propriety.
Now Apple has been granted US patent 7814163, the “Text-based communication control for personal communication device,” which allows for controlling content sent and received from an “administered device” via a parental control application.
The patent is meant to curb “sexting”—the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs via mobile phones—since there is currently “no way to monitor and control text communications to make them user appropriate. For example, users such as children may send or receive messages (intentionally or not) with parentally objectionable language,” according to Apple. Fuck!
Apple even describes how its built-in controls are intelligent enough to stop users attempting to bypass restrictions by using alternative spellings or abbreviations. The technology would instruct Apple’s iPhones to either “require the user to replace the unauthorized text or may automatically delete the text or the entire communication.” Linguistic acrobatics won’t work here, kiddos.
There are two plus sides to Apple’s patent—and a deeply negative one. Let’s start with the smiles:
Plus: Apple as Educator
The patent’s description says that through parentally-designated controls, the text modification might “require that a certain number of Spanish words per day be included in e-mails for a child learning Spanish.” The tech could also restrict the sending of messages with spelling and grammar errors—the final gunshot in the head of English-slaughtering LOL-speak? Probably not. But it’s a start.
Plus: Apple as Protector
Sexting is huge; but sexting laws are so unclear they’re practically useless, and they have, in the past, damned teenagers to lives as sex offenders. At least 20 percent of teenagers have sexted or e-mailed naked self-photos. And because most of these teens are innocently flirting with significant others, and are oblivious to the legal consequences, the criminal prosecution rates will only rise.
So Apple might succeed in keeping kids from breaking the law. Which is good. In a way.
Big Minus: Apple as a Branch of the Law
Last year I wrote a cautious article about sexting for PC World:
“The main problem with these sexting charges is determining who is guilty and who is not. In some cases, those who snapped the photographs have been charged; in others, it’s those who received the images and inadvertently stored them on their mobile devices or e-mail accounts. On the state level, there are far too many variations of the law to whittle down who is responsible for what. For instance, if a father discovered the images his daughter sent, shouldn’t he be charged with viewing child pornography and be punished? The consequences for a sexter shift, and like in the case of the porn-collecting 27-year-old MySpace man [who was charged only with “unlawful sexual activity” whereas the 15-year-old sender was charged with distributing child porn], they are occasionally irrationally biased against the youngest involver.”
Since that article’s publication, the laws haven’t become any clearer, and the sexting cases continue to pile up.
Apple’s involvement in the sexting trend only complicates things. Though the specific terms that Apple deems “inappropriate” were not included in the patent description, and said terms will evolve as cunning linguists morph our lexicon, this anti-sexting patent reeks of a crusade to change language as we know it—perhaps even making some phrases illegal to use. It stinks of moralism.
One man’s dirty word is another man’s term of endearment, or simply a naive utterance. To allow Apple to meddle with our dictionary and black out words is to relinquish too much power to a corporate entity. I don’t care if Apple has a cult—it shouldn’t have this right.