Editing iMessages can easily be done in a way that protects abuse victims

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editing iMessages was one of New features introduced by Apple in iOS 16, along with the ability to “undo” a message entirely. While these are long-awaited features welcomed by most, some have raised concerns about the potential for abuse.

Luckily, it would be easy for Apple to fix this problem in a way that works for everyone, and I have a few suggestions on how that might be accomplished…

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One of the most annoying things about sending an iMessage is the instant detection of a typo as soon as you send it — the app doesn’t yet offer an option to edit or delete the message. This is in contrast to many competing apps, which typically offer one or both features.

Apple fixed this in iOS 16 and provides the ability to do so edit a message after sending or send completely. The former is most useful for correcting typos, the latter if you accidentally posted a message to the wrong thread – or messed something up so much that it’s better to start over!

Both features are obviously beneficial most of the time, but there is one situation where they can be harmful: when someone is sending messages to offend or harass the recipient. In these cases, the abuser could send a nasty message, wait for it to be seen, and then delete or edit it to say something harmless. That was the worry collected by an attorney representing victims of abuse.

As an advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, this new feature — particularly the significant time allowed to edit or delete messages — will expose victims of violence to additional harassment and bullying, as the perpetrator will take advantage of it
Tools to send malicious content, knowing they can destroy evidence of their wrongdoing.

Existing safeguards

Apple already integrates two protective measures into the system. If a message is not sent, a record is left in the thread stating that a message was deleted. When a message is edited, it is marked as such, so there are indications that a previous version existed.

Also, a message can only be edited within 15 minutes of being sent.

Some also point out that a victim can take screenshots of unwanted messages to provide permanent evidence, but not all non-technical iPhone owners will know how to do this, and it doesn’t provide the same quality of legal evidence as the actual one message thread. Also, an abuser could sit there and wait for the delivered/read indicator and delete it before it can be screengrabbed.

Suggested safeguard for deleting or editing iMessages

I would suggest a simple toggle of settings for abuse victims or anyone else who wants a full record of what was broadcast. Name it “Save edited/deleted messages”.

It would work like this:

Deleted iMessages

If the toggle is enabled, the deleted message is retained with a note saying “The sender tried to delete this message”.

Edited iMessages

When the toggle is on, the original message is shown, followed by the edit:

Remember I know where you live [Original message]

We must agree not to agree [Edited message]

Automatic activation with safety check

Apple has already announced a safety feature for those at risk of domestic violence. known as a security check.

Within Safety Check, users quickly disable others’ access to their information. There is an emergency reset button to instantly reset access for all people and apps and check account security. There’s also Manage Sharing and Access, which allows a user to customize which people and apps can access their information. The security check in iOS 16 allows users to easily disconnect from their partner with whom they previously shared information.

It would make sense to integrate both so that this messaging protection switch is automatically activated when someone uses the security check feature.

Stronger protection would be retrospective activation

Not all abuse victims expect bad news. An extra layer of protection here would be to allow anyone to view edited and unsent messages by long-pressing on the edited message or an unsent notification.

This would be a win-win situation

That way, we would all take advantage of the new features, while victims of abuse or harassment would be adequately protected with a full record of messages sent to them.

Some might object that anyone could turn on the toggle for trolling or embarrassment purposes, but it should be noted that the ability to edit or retrieve a message is just a convenience feature — it’s not a guaranteed way to avoid embarrassment. There are third-party apps that show deleted or edited messages in apps like WhatsApp, and message content can be visible in notifications. So the ability to edit or delete a message is simply a means of keeping things tidy.

In any case, someone embarrassing themselves over a messaging error is clearly the lesser of two evils here.

That’s my view – what about yours? Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Daniel Franco/Unsplash

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