Apple has recently filed a patent application for a system to block “sexting,” or text messages containing sexual content. This patent application suggests that a centrally-managed keyword-based system would be used to automatically block certain types of incoming or outgoing text messages, or some of their content:
Systems, devices, and methods are provided for enabling a user to control the content of text-based messages sent to or received from an administered device. In some embodiments, a message will be blocked (incoming or outgoing) if the message includes forbidden content. In other embodiments, the objectionable content is removed from the message prior to transmission or as part of the receiving process. The content of such a message is controlled by filtering the message based on defined criteria. The criteria may be defined according to a parental control application.
This system would allow for a centralized administrator to choose which keywords to block (“the text-based communication device may synchronize with, for example, a remote computing system or server to receive text-based communication”), and could potentially be used for other purposes. Apple’s patent application notably mentions that such a system could be used in education, “to require the administered devices to include certain text in messages. These embodiments might, for example, require that a certain number of Spanish words per day be included in e-mails for a child learning Spanish.”
But not everyone sees it this way. John Dvorak thinks that this is a kowtow to repressive states where Apple wants to sell its iPhone. While such a mechanism could certainly be used in this manner, it’s not clear if this is, indeed, the purpose of the patent.
It’s worth pointing out that Intego’s ContentBarrier (part of the company’s Internet Security Barrier suite), offers an AntiPredator feature for Mac users, allowing parents to block predatory language when children use iChat, AIM or ICQ instant messaging programs as well as in e-mails.