Cloud

iCensorship: Apple deletes iCloud emails with the phrase ‘barely legal teen’

Tim Cook, after Macworld Expo 2009 keynote

Updated at 1:10 p.m. PT with Apple’s response to the issue.

Apple is deleting emails sent from iCloud accounts containing the phrase “barely legal teen,” a sign the company is still strictly distancing itself from pornography and adult material.

The deleted emails issue, which Macworld first revealed, coordinates well with Apple’s history. Apple has removed and rejected several apps from the App Store because they were too pornographic, and it recently removed the 500px app because it was too easy to find adult images.

The phrase “barely legal” is often associated with pornography, but it doesn’t necessarily have be used in that context. For example, an Infoworld reader said he had “barely legal teen” inside a screenplay he had attached in an email and that it would not send.

I confirmed that iCloud is deleting emails such as this by sending an email to myself from an iCloud email account. Here’s what I sent to myself:

barely-legal-teens-icloud

That email did not go through. But when I sent the same email without the phrase “barely legal,” it sent just fine.

The phrase “barely legal” does go through on iMessage and through regular email accounts that are sending from Apple devices. It appears to only affect people using an iCloud email account. There’s no telling what other questionable phrases have been blocked as well.

Apple’s iCloud terms and conditions appear to give Apple the authority to do what it wants with content sent from iCloud (emphasis ours):

You acknowledge that Apple is not responsible or liable in any way for any Content provided by others and has no duty to pre-screen such Content. However, Apple reserves the right at all times to determine whether Content is appropriate and in compliance with this Agreement, and may pre-screen, move, refuse, modify and/or remove Content at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, if such Content is found to be in violation of this Agreement or is otherwise objectionable.

Apple told Macworld today that it is a spam filter issue, rather than a censorship issue.

“Occasionally, automated spam filters may incorrectly block legitimate email,” an Apple spokesperson said. “If the customer feels that a legitimate message is blocked, we encourage customers to report it to AppleCare.”

However, even if this is really the case, it’s disconcerting to know that any email with a questionable or spam-like phrase will never be sent from an iCloud email account. And you aren’t even notified that the email did not go through to its intended recipient.

Tim Cook photo via lemagit/Flickr