Apple’s (Stock Quote: AAPL) efforts to filter out objectionable content from the digital world took a big step forward this week with the approval of a patent for a smartphone feature that would allow the user (say, a parent) to regulate the way the device could be used.
Titled “Text-based communication control for personal communication device,” the patent is impressive in its scope. It includes settings that would block text messages containing any terms the user chooses to put on a “banned” list, a feature that would supposedly put an end to “sexting,” the racy practice sending of lewd messages among cell phones that is becoming popular among teens.
Apple explained the reasoning in its patent application, filed in January 2008: “One problem with text-based communications is that there is no way to monitor and control text communications to make them user appropriate. For example, users such as children may send or receive messages (intentionally or not) with parentally objectionable language.”
Efforts to stem sexting may seem futile since sexual and drug-related terminology changes constantly, especially among young people, and parents tend to be the last ones to know what their children’s slang actually means. But the patent describes one feature in which a text message cannot be sent unless its content passes the automatic spell check. Spelling the word “boobs” with numbers (“b00bs”) would therefore not work to override the filter.The other major application of the new patent supports the device’s educational possibilities. A parent can set language and timing restrictions so that, for example, a text message must be sent every hour in a particular language and at a particular skill level in that language. In this way a student learning French will not be able to send personal messages until he or she has sent the required number of messages in proper French.