Victims’ attorney calls on Apple to rethink how its iMessage editing feature works

At WWDC 2022 keynote speech last week, Apple shared new features coming to iMessage in iOS16. One of the most remarkable features is the ability to Edit and “cancel sending“iMessages on your iPhone after sending them. This comes with questions about the potential dangers to victims of sexual harassment and assault.

In a shared letter with 9to5Mac, Lawyer Michelle Simpson Tuegel has called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to rethink some aspects of the iMessage update. The ability to edit and delete messages is not a new concept as other messaging platforms have the capability. However, since iMessage is the iPhone’s default messaging platform, Simpson Tuegel said the service plays a vital role in how users communicate.

As an advocate for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, this new feature – particularly the extensive time allowed to edit or delete posts – will expose victims of violence to additional harassment and bullying, as the perpetrator will benefit.
tools to send harmful content knowing they can destroy evidence of their misconduct.

Authors alter iMessage evidence sent to victims

With the new iMessage update, iPhone users will have up to 15 minutes after sending a message to edit or delete it. Simpson Tuegel shares an example of how an abuser can send dangerous content to a victim and then edit it during those 15 minutes to hide their abuse. It is also important to note that during these 15 minutes, the sender may modify the message several times. She also shares that it is unfair to rely on victims to capture these messages within a given timeframe.

It’s not uncommon for abusers in these types of situations to even deny sending abusive messages, using their victim’s trauma to “enlighten” them so they no longer believe they were victimized.

Since iOS 16 won’t be rolling out until the fall, Apple has time to make the necessary changes. The attorney calls out the immediate solutions Apple can provide to help victims and mitigate the damage that could be done with iMessage’s edit and delete options.

Reduce the time it takes to edit or delete iMessages

Simpson Tuegel asked Apple to change the edit and delete timeout from 15 minutes to two minutes. Authors are more likely to realize that they are at greater risk if their posts become uneditable within a shorter time frame. Additionally, a shorter time window will insert greater doubt into the mind of the stalker that they will be able to suppress. 15 minutes is a long enough period to be able to edit and delete messages; the average user should take much less time to notice an error.

The letter asks Apple to notify the recipient if the sender edits or deletes a message. However, through testing, we know that it notifies the recipient. 9to5Mac got their hands dirty and found that users are notified when the sender modifies or unsends a message. However, they don’t know what the post was before the edit or deletion. Also, the functionality is limited, as non-iOS 16 recipients will still see the original message.

edit button iphone ios16

Allow users to disable edit/delete functionality

Since Apple allows users to disable read receipts, Simpson Tuegel states that it should allow users to disable editing/deleting. Additionally, Apple could ask users if they want messages they receive to be edited or deleted by the sender. If the user chooses to unsubscribe, he will not be able to modify or delete his messages.

Access to deleted iMessages

iOS 16 also brings a “Recently Deleted” feature in iMessage. With this, users can view messages that they have deleted for up to 30 days. After the 30 days, the messages will be automatically deleted and will disappear forever. You can manually enter and delete messages yourself before the 30-day period ends.

Apple has good intentions

Along with the ability to edit and delete iMessages, iOS 16 also brings a new feature to protect victims called Security controle. This iPhone setting is for the protection of those who are abused. In the event of danger, Safety Check allows users to quickly disable others’ access to their information on their iPhone. It includes an emergency reset button to immediately reset access for all people and apps. This feature allows users to easily sever ties with a partner with whom they previously shared their information.

The letter ends with:

Apple is a technology industry leader, and rolling out these new iMessage features gives the company an opportunity to lead by example and influence how other messaging platforms should protect their users from harassment and abuse. While I don’t believe Apple is deliberately trying to cause harm by announcing its new iMessage feature, I hope you will take these concerns seriously to ensure that the rights of victims and survivors are respected and accommodated.

Learn more about iMessage in iOS 16:

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