Apple patent reveals censorship plans

Apple looks set to exert its control over even more aspects of its users' lives with a patent that allows it to monitor and filter incoming and outgoing text messages for "forbidden content".

The patent, approved this week following its filing in early 2008, was first spotted by ReadWriteWeb, and gives a clue as to the level of control Apple would like to see over all aspects of its communications devices.

The patent provides "systems, devices, and methods [...] for enabling a user to control the content of text-based messages sent to or received from an administered device," and acts as a 'censor' that prevents teens from getting flirty over a few 'sex-t' messages.

The abstract goes on to explain that "[i]in some embodiments, a messages will be blocked (incoming or outgoing) if the message includes forbidden content[, and] in other embodiments the objectionable content is removed from the message prior to transmission or as part of the receiving process."

Both 'embodiments' of the patented system tie in to a planned parental control application, which would allow parents to set up a keyword list of banned topics that would be applied to all incoming and outgoing messages from the device - including SMS, instant messaging, and e-mail.

As well as the somewhat Orwellian overtones of such a system, Apple is hoping to sell the technology to educators: "These techniques may also be used, in accordance with instructional embodiments, 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."

With Apple exerting the most control of all mobile OS providers over content on its devices, with a detailed list of exactly the sort of content it doesn't want to see on its devices made available to those who pay the $99 Developer Programme joining fee, this latest patent shouldn't come as a shock - but does provide an insight into the locked-down future into which Apple would lead its customers.