Apple censors e-mails, attachments with the term ‘barely legal teen’

appleIt appears Apple isn’t down with whatever sketchy things are going on in your e-mails. Reports have emerged that the Cupertino company has been censoring messages sent and received via its iCloud mail program, ensuring that anyone looking for “barely legal” pornography – or, for that matter, anything else that include the term “barely legal” – will be sorely disappointed.

The InfoWorld blog initially broke the story thanks to an e-mail from a reader who had trouble sending a screenplay using iCloud, even though other attachments worked fine, and the problematic attachment could be sent using alternate e-mail solutions. After compressing the file – meaning its contents would be sent without Apple’s virus scan – the screenplay was able to be sent and received by iCloud, leading to the assumption that – just maybe – there was something wrong with the screenplay’s contents.

“AND THEN I SAW IT,” the reader explained. “A line in the script, describing a character viewing an advertisement for a pornographic site on his computer screen. Upon modifying this line, the entire document was delivered with no problem.” Curious as to whether this was a one-off glitch or a sign of a larger policy that Apple had failed to make public, InfoWorld’s sibling blog MacWorld decided to send a couple of test messages to investigate further.

“The message read ‘My friend’s son is already allowed to drive his high-powered car. It’s ridiculous. He’s a barely legal teenage driver? What on earth is John thinking.’ The second email amended the phrase ‘a barely legal” to ‘barely a legal,'” the site wrote. “This second email was delivered fine, whereas the first is still undelivered. Upon further testing we discovered that the phrase is not blocked by Siri or iMessages, both of which can search and send messages containing the term ‘barely legal teen.'”

Legally speaking, Apple isn’t doing anything wrong in refusing to deliver the “barely legal” messages. The iCloud terms of service makes it clear that “Apple reserves the right at all times to determine whether Content is appropriate and in compliance with this Agreement, and may pre-screen, move, refuse, modify and/or remove Content at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, if such Content is found to be in violation of this Agreement or is otherwise objectionable,” after all.

However, it’s unlikely that many people would be entirely comfortable with the idea that Apple is quietly reviewing the content of messages sent via iCloud, never mind refusing to deliver messages that it finds objectionable without any alerting of either sender or receiver that this was the case.

When contacted by InfoWorld, Apple did not offer comment. As more people find out about it, it’s safe to say that probably won’t stay the case for too long.

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