By John D. Sutter
Apple has patented technology that could be used by parents to prevent their kids from sending sexually explicit text messages — or “sexting.”
The technology, which has not been commercialized, would let a phone’s administrator block an iPhone from sending or receiving texts with certain words.
Messages containing blocked material either would not be received or would have the objectionable content redacted. Unlike other text blockers, Apple’s version would also be able to filter content based on a child’s grade level and claims to filter abbreviated words that maybe missed by other programs.
The patent, awarded Tuesday, does not address the sending or receiving of explicit images.
The U.S. patent, which Apple filed for in January 2008, could also turn these filters into educational tools, according to the patent document.
Parents of kids who are studying Spanish, for example, could be required to send a certain number of messages per month in that language, according to the document. If kids did not meet the foreign language quota, their texting privileges could be automatically revoked until they send more Spanish-language text messages.
Grammarians may cheer this innovation. The texting interface also could prod kids towards better grammar, requiring them to identify and fix spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes before sending a message.
So maybe the Apple texting tool will be the end of LOL-speak.
Apple says old methods of monitoring and controlling text communications on phones have largely failed. Allowing kids to communicate only with a pre-set list of phone numbers or e-mail addresses is limiting, the patent document says, and does not address the content of the mobile phone communications, which Apple says is more important.
Other methods of filtering only block certain expletives, Apple says, instead of trying to recognize the overall offensiveness of a message and comparing that to a kid’s age and learning level.
The blog TechCrunch asks if the patent will be the end of sexting:
“Yes and no,” Alexia Tsotsis writes on that blog, “as those interesting in ‘sexting’ will probably find some clever workaround to express how much they want to bang, screw, hit it or a myriad of other words that don’t immediately set off the censorship sensors.”
The Daily Mail in the UK writes that this anti-sexting news “will be music to the ears of Tiger Woods. Or Ashley Cole, or Vernon Kay for that matter,” referring to sexting scandals involving those celebrities.
It’s unclear exactly how this technology would be incorporated into Apple’s iPhone products, but it would appear to work through the phone’s built-in text-messaging application. Other texting apps aim to prevent texting while driving and let iPhone users send text messages without incurring charges from AT&T, the mobile carrier that has exclusive rights to the iPhone in the U.S.
Do you think this kind of technology will bring about the end of sexting and SMS slang? Let us know what you think in the comments below.