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

At the WWDC 2022 opening speech last week, Apple shared new features are coming to iMessage in iOS 16† One of its most notable features is the ability to edit and “UndoiMessages on your iPhone after they are sent. In addition, there are questions about possible dangers for victims of sexual harassment and assault.

In a letter shared of 9to5Mac, attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to rethink aspects of the iMessage update. The ability to edit and delete posts is not a new concept as other messaging platforms have the option. However, since iMessage is the iPhone’s default messaging platform, Simpson Tuegel stated that the service plays a critical role in how users communicate.

As an advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, this new feature — specifically, the significant amount of 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 malicious content knowing they can destroy evidence of their wrongdoing.

Offenders edit iMessage evidence sent to victims

With the new iMessage update, iPhone users have up to 15 minutes after sending a message to edit or delete. Simpson Tuegel shares an example of how an abuser can send dangerous content to a victim and then edit it within those 15 minutes to cover up their abuse. It’s also important to note that the sender can edit the message multiple times within those 15 minutes. She also notes that it is unfair to rely on victims to take screenshots of these messages within a time frame.

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

Since iOS 16 isn’t rolling out until the fall, Apple has time to make some necessary changes. The lawyer calls for immediate solutions that Apple can do to help victims and reduce the damage that can be done with iMessage’s edit and delete options.

Shorten the time to edit or delete iMessages

Simpson Tuegel asked Apple to change the edit and delete time frame from 15 minutes to two minutes. Offenders are more likely to realize that they are at greater risk if their messages become unreadable in a shorter amount of time. In addition, a shorter period of time will create more doubts in the bully’s mind that they can remove. 15 minutes is quite a long time to be able to edit and delete posts; the average user would take much less time to realize an error.

The letter calls on Apple to notify the recipient if the sender edits or deletes a message. However, through testing, we know that it will notify the recipient. 9to5Mac went hands-on with the update and found that users get a notification when the sender edits or sends a message. However, they don’t know what the message was prior to editing or deletion. There are also limitations to the feature, as recipients who are not on iOS 16 will still see the original message.

iphone ios16 edit button

Allow users to opt out of the edit/delete feature

Since Apple gives users the option not to receive read receipts, Simpson Tuegel states that it should provide users with the option to opt-out of editing/deleting. In addition, Apple could ask users if they want the messages received to be edited or deleted by the sender. If the user chooses to unsubscribe, they will not be able to edit or delete their posts.

Access Deleted iMessages

iOS 16 also brings a Feature “Recently Deleted” in iMessage. It allows users to view deleted messages for up to 30 days. After the 30 days, the messages will be automatically deleted and gone forever. You can go in and delete messages manually before the 30-day period expires.

Apple has good intentions

In addition to the ability to edit and delete iMessages, iOS 16 also brings a new victim protection feature called Security check† This iPhone setting is for protecting those who are victims of abuse. In the event of danger, Safety Check allows users to quickly disable others’ access to their information on their iPhone. It includes emergency reset button to instantly reset access for all people and apps. This feature makes it easy for users to cut ties with a partner they previously shared their information with.

The letter ends with:

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

More about iMessage in iOS 16:

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