Apple’s Anti-Sexting Application Has Potential, but Can’t Replace Parents

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teen-texting You may have heard of Apple’s recent patent on a technology that will allow the company to censor incoming and outgoing “sext” messages on the iPhone. And though it’s only an idea at this point, it’s a noteworthy one considering the exponential effect it can have, granted that it works the way that Apple intends it to.  But like an article in InfoWorld pointed out, Apple is far from the first company to offer this technology to cell phone users. The reason it’s such a big deal is because…well…it’s Apple.  And in my opinion, I don’t think that matters too much, in fact, I say more power to them.  If they can do it better than the ones who came before, then that’s great, especially for all the parents who have children with iPhones (a lot!).  That said, there are obviously some privacy concerns that can result from this filtering technology if, or when, it comes to fruition.

Ever since the unfortunate rise in cyberbullying and sexting scandals and incidents all around the country, parents—some that I’ve spoken to personally—have been looking for an effective solution to help aid them in protecting their child from harassing text messages.  In fact, one of the younger members of our team has a little sister who’s currently attending middle school.  Granted, middle school is probably one of the roughest social experiences that anyone can face in their entire life, but his sister is dealing with some serious bullying—and most of it is occurring right on her iPhone.  She’s received text messages from several girls calling her names, threatening to beat her up, making accusations about certain middle-school drama, and even death threats.  Of course the mother is taking it quite seriously and getting the police and school officials involved, but it isn’t quite working.

I’d imagine that if Apple’s technology was on the market, and she knew about it, she would hop on it immediately—and to be honest, I think most parents would, too.  However, the concern that most people are having revolves around the fact that Apple seems to be giving parents the ability to control the application in more ways than blocking sexting.

From the patent description:

A parent can ….institute a condition to improve a child’s grades. For example, the control application may require a user during specified time periods to send messages in a designated foreign language, to include certain designated vocabulary words, or to use proper designated spelling, designated grammar and designated punctuation and like designated language forms based on the user’s defined skill level and/or designated language skill rating.

Though I imagine that this feature can come in handy for parents in many instances, these controls can easily frustrate a teen and cause them to look for ways around it, i.e. jailbreaking the app, hacking it, or manipulating it in other ways.  Not only that, but like the article in InfoWorld points out, teens are more savvy than we are when it comes to mobile devices, and they can easily invent new sexting acronyms that we aren’t even aware of yet.

Parents, I think Apple’s plans are a great step in the right direction. But no matter what technology comes out with the intention of protecting our children, WE are the best deterrent to sexting/cyberbullying.  Keeping open communication in the house, an open relationship between you and your child (no matter how old they are), and letting your kids know that YOU KNOW what’s best regardless of the technology that they have access to or how many times they roll their eyes at your and skulk out of the room. And you can do that by keeping up with the latest Internet safety news, practical tools, and just knowing the basic ins and outs of the media and tech that your children are surrounded by every day.


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  • I agree that these issues should be worked out with the kids involved, but thinking Apple would step in doesn’t seem realistic. Parents can’t do it alone. Schools can’t do it alone. Kids certainly can’t manage it alone. If we can use technology to help the parent, the schools, the kids, the family….then that’s a good thing.

  • Do you really believe that because a middle schooler can’t receive the txt bullying messages, the issue has been resolved? Hmmm… Learning to deal w/adversity is a key part of growing up, and using technology to hide the dirty laundry rather than to clean it does not sound like an effective tool to solve the larger problems around both sexting and cyber-bullying.
    As for Apple creating this service, I believe this should void any protections they might currently be afforded through the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) since the use of this technology would mean that they’re no longer a mere pipe for user communications, but a filter of such. I believe their approach would also be heavy handed and intrusive to users’ privacy, and that it would be preferable to focus on working it out w/the kids directly when these issues come up, not through the use of filtering technologies.
    Just my $0.02.

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