Among the usual collection of bug fixes and performance improvements, Apple has taken some significant steps to help curb the potential abuse of its new iMessage editing feature.
At the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, it was announced that the update would allow for editing and unsending iMessages. This isn't a new feature, but Apple's implementation raised concerns among some domestic safety advocates
It looks like Apple has taken those concerns into account with the release of the fourth developer version of the mobile operating system. The time frame to unsend a message has been shortened from 15 minutes to 2 minutes. In a letter she sent to Tim Cook, the survivor advocate pointed out that a sender of such a message, in most instances, will immediately realize the error, so two minutes should be more than enough. Someone who plans to use iMessage for harassment will face a greater risk if they know their messages are permanent.
Unsending messages only apply to the two minute window. It is possible to change a message up to fifteen minutes after it is sent, but Apple has come up with a number of ways to prevent abuse.
Only a single message can be edited up to five times. The option is gone after that. The Messages app retains the original message and each of the additional edits, which the sender or receiver can see by tapping the word "Edited" that now appears as hyperlinked blue text beneath an edited message.
Unsolicited messages don't seem to be retained, they're gone for good People are likely to use the unsend feature to get rid of personal or confidential messages accidentally sent to them. The two-minute limit should make a difference.
Simpson Tuegel, an attorney and advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, wrote a letter to Tim Cook explaining how unsending and editing messages in Apple's mobile operating system could cause victims of violence to be harassed. Simpson Tuegel said that an abused person could send harmful content knowing they can destroy evidence of their wrongdoing.
Yesterday I reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding the new iMessage edit/delete feature and my concerns about how the update could enable sexual abusers and harassers. I discussed the letter I sent and my proposed solutions with @nypost: https://t.co/w8q7hxXwP8
— Michelle Simpson Tuegel (@SheWinsLaw) June 16, 2022
Simpson Tuegel pointed out that victims of trauma can't be relied upon to take a screenshot of offending messages in order to retain them for future legal proceedings. She says that if the abuser is engaging in psychological warfare and trying to make the other person think the problem is in their own mind, it's even worse.
Simpson Tuegel sounded an alarm about a week after the first developer preview of the new mobile operating system. She recommended that Apple provide a notification when a message has been edited or deleted and that the time window in which a sender can do so be reduced.
It is reassuring to know that Apple has taken that advice seriously and has updated Messages with the latest version of the software. The new features are only available in the developer version of the app. You have to wait for a future update to see the changes.
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