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This week at WWDC 2022, Apple announced a ton of new features, enhancements, and hardware making techies across the globe drool in unison.
Its new messaging edit and unsend function, however, may have significant consequences far outside the tech space.
Apple proudly announced it’s releasing three of the most common requests when it comes to iMessage: mark unread, an unsend option, and edit feature. And people are thrilled.
Unfortunately, I have concerns.
Messaging, Autocorrect, Business, And The Dangers Hiding Within
Lockheed Martin likely would have rejoiced at the thought of the edit button. It might have saved them $70m in 1999 when the company misplaced a comma, forcing them to honor an unintentional discount price.
Taylor & Sons had been in business for 124 years when a press release went out notifying the public of insolvency for Taylor & Son. The UK government was ultimately found liable and was ordered to pay an estimated $17.2m, but the damage was already done.
In 2021, for example, Simon Silwood claimed that autocorrect changed “buffoon” to “baboon” when he was jailed for a Facebook post.
These weren’t via messaging apps, but they could have been.
Facebook and Instagram generated many heated discussions when they originally announced their edit features. Most recently, Twitter announced a long-awaited edit feature of its own to a plethora of cheers and criticisms.
Would it be used for deceptive purposes?
How misleading could editing tweets really be compared to simply deleting and reposting them?
Would edits make it easier for those who have shared the tweets to see the updates?
Will it increase or decrease misinformation on the platform?
Some suggested Twitter could avoid many of these issues by allowing users to see a log of changes and edits, but that comes with its own set of issues. For example, users generally edit a tweet or a message with the intention of not having the original version seen.
It would also open the door to the “oopsy” defense–send out a hateful or false message, claim it was a mistake, and edit it. While it may seem innocent, the damage may already be done.
Think about certain individuals tweeting about stock and how that affects price, for example. Or change the last two letters in “kiss” to Ls and the meaning behind the message morphs into something very different.
Personally, I love the idea of finally being able to avoid embarrassing work-related texts when using the word “assess,” but it’s not worth what this feature may cost.
Because in some instances, it may cost lives.
I was once in an unhealthy domestic situation that resulted in a trip through the court system. Text messages became crucial when presenting my case.
And here is the scariest part:
Those text messages were the only real form of proof I had. Without them, it would have just been a lot of he-said-she-said, with a few witnesses on both sides testifying that the other person was lying.
Had I not had months of accurate text messages and emails, I may not have been here today.
The Dark Side Of Text Messaging
Messages and texts have played a vital role in our daily lives for almost two decades. Sometimes, with serious consequences.
In 2008, for example, Kwame Kilpatrick, then mayor of Detroit, was found guilty of perjury and breaking whistleblower laws. He was ordered to pay $6.5 million in damages.
In 2015, Inflategate became almost instantly infamous when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were found to have deliberately manipulated the air pressure in footballs to give them an advantage in the AFC championship game.
Earlier this year, former police officers who regularly worked with domestic violence victims became subjects of investigations for sexual offenses.
In each of these cases, investigations, charges, and convictions were all triggered by text messages.
Someone Will Always Find A Way To Abuse A System
In 2012, iMessage already had more than 140M users sending over 1B messages daily. In Apple’s own words, “It’s integral to how we communicate to the people who matter most.”
We use it to discuss business deals, coordinate parenting activities, market a product, argue with intimate partners or line up a date, and even contact 9-1-1.
In this context, the thought of unsending drunken messages you accidentally sent to your mom at 2 a.m. sounds fantastic. But what about other situations?
Through heartbreaking confessions and court transcripts, we know it’s not unheard of for women to be stalked, threatened, and harassed for months via Instagram or text messages.
For better or for worse, police use them to catch bad guys. Divorce lawyers love text messages, too. They even made an appearance in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case everyone’s been buzzing about recently.
Apple has thought about this at least to some degree. It’s possible to see that a message has been edited with a small comment on the bottom. However, it’s unclear if you will be able to see how the messages are edited.
The tech giant also placed a time limit on the feature, making comments editable for only 15 minutes. However, that is enough time to send a nefarious or threatening message, have it read by the victim, and edit it to something asinine.
(Reading them once is enough for them to be burned into your memory for a long time. Provided the offending party doesn’t follow through with the threats you can’t prove, of course.)
Some may argue that you simply need to take screencaps as you read the messages, but here’s the thing:
Sometimes, you don’t know how important a message is at the time. And no one plans to be double-crossed by a business partner, abused, or stalked. It may simply be too late by the time you realize the significance of something.
Even if you see signs that there may be trouble on the horizon, it’s human nature to disregard them and explain them away.
As one expert put it, “…when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.”
The general public needs to be concerned about editing, too, particularly when it comes to social media and mass texts.
In March 2022, for example, Snopes.com found one scammer hijacked an account and edited 10 years of messages and posts to include links and ads for their scams to make the account appear legitimate.
And because these accounts are people you know and trust, it gives the ads and the scammer legitimacy.
Other Dangers In The Palm Of Your Hand
The dangers of technology have gone far beyond just messages.
Experts warned the public about stalkerware long before Google removed seven of these apps from the Google Play Store in 2019.
Online harassment has also skyrocketed, with an estimated 41% of all U.S. adults reported having been victims at least once.
In 2019, for example, 75-year-old James Taylor shot and killed 70-year-old Catherine Taylor after he found her at her son’s home. Catherine had escaped him after a domestic abuse incident and thought she was safe until Taylor tracked her down using iCloud.
Apple has attempted to solve this issue with today’s announcement of an emergency kill option that disconnects everything and prevents you from being tracked through your phone. At least by people connected to your accounts.
Why wasn’t this option added immediately with the original feature?
iOS is often chosen because it’s more user-friendly and highly rated by the less tech-savvy crowd. So, how many iPhone or iPad users know it’s there? Do they know how to use it?
For Better Or Worse, Text Messages Changed Human Behavior
Text messages have been an important part of disease prevention, management, and public health campaigns for well over a decade now.
Health providers of all kinds are using text messages to deliver test results, send appointment reminders, check on individuals living with addictions, provide diet or smoking interventions, and more.
Schools are using text messages to help reduce information gaps between teachers, institutions, and parents.
Physically, smartphones have led to an increase in a range of injuries with some studies estimating that as much as 82.38% of the population has experienced discomfort due to prolonged smartphone use.
You may have also heard of the Google effect. It means we’re now forgetting information that can be easily searched in Google or found on our mobile devices including birthdays, factoids, and even directions. On the other side of the equation, studies find simple texts can make you feel more confident in your performance.
How will all of this change with the ability to unsend and edit messages already sent? Will we trust less? Will we move towards other mediums? I don’t know, but I will certainly be more careful in the future.
Featured Image: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock