Although we have known for long that Apple takes their anti-pornography stance seriously, the latest iCloud filter of the phrase “barely legal teen” still surprised many.
According to a report on Macworld, Apple’s cloud storage and email service refused to send an email with the particular phrase. It was discovered when a screenwriter repeatedly failed to send a script wherein he used the phrase “barely legal teen” for a character who noticed a pornographic ad.
“Barely legal teen” is a phrase more commonly associated with pornographic websites.
Macworld tried to send an email with the same phrase, but it kept being rejected. Finally, they decided to alter the email a little bit by sending the phrase “barely a legal teen” instead of “barely legal teen.” The email was then sent.
Apple spokesperson Trudy Miller recently came out with a statement regarding the incident. She said that the failure to deliver the email was because iCloud uses automated spam filters that can block legitimate emails from being delivered. Miller, however, failed to explain if the censorship was based on Apple’s anti-pornographic policy. She also didn’t explain why the emails didn’t simply appear in the sender’s junk folder.
If you can recall (or perhaps you want to check out Apple’s terms of service), the company said that although it is not responsible for the content being sent through its services, it reserves the right to determine if the content is appropriate and in compliance with the agreement. The policy also said that Apple can “pre-screen, move, refuse, modify and/or remove” the incompliant content without prior notice.
Such is Apple’s strong anti-porn policy that it doesn’t even allow pornographic materials in its iBookstore and iTunes Store. Those who are used to Apple’s policy might gloss over this one, but rejecting an email because of a single phrase sounds too intrusive for me.
With this latest incident, it looks like Apple is really applying the terms of service, which doesn’t sit well for many people. The law doesn’t specifically order Apple to enforce these kinds of censorship, but the company does what it wants. Still, it doesn’t sound too good that the iCloud filter can tell you what you can and cannot say.
What’s more worrisome about this is that Apple doesn’t even let you know that your email was not sent. It may sometimes send cryptic messages to let you know that the email failed to send, but that’s not always the case. The email service on any device is one of its most important functions. It provides day-to-day updates with what’s going on in your personal and professional life. If a device can somehow filter that, then that totally negates the use of the email service.
iCloud may know when to censor an email because of the words and phrases used in them, but the context of how those words and phrases were used may be important for the user and the receiver of that email. It is quite unfair for the iCloud filter to deem words and phrases as inconsistent with Apple’s anti-porn policy when it couldn’t detect the exact context on how those words and phrases were used.