Ride the Lightning

Cybersecurity and Future of Law Practice Blog
by Sharon D. Nelson Esq., President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

Apple Announces Ability to Edit and Unsend iMessages on iPhones

June 22, 2022

9to5MAC reported on June 15 that, at the WWDC 2022 opening keynote last week, Apple shared new features coming to iMessage in iOS 16. One feature that drew a lot of headlines online is the ability to edit and “unsend” iMessages on your iPhone after they are sent.

That certainly raises some issues for victims of sexual harassment and assault.

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

Her letter stated, “As an advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault, this new feature – in particular the significant amount of time allowed to edit or delete messages – will expose victims of violence to additional harassment and bullying as the perpetrator will take advantage of these tools to send harmful content knowing they can destroy evidence of their misconduct.”

With the new iMessage update, iPhone users will have up to 15 minutes after sending a message to edit or delete it. Tuegel cites an example of how a perpetrator can send dangerous content to a victim, and then edit within those 15 minutes to hide their abuse. Also important to note is that within those 15 minutes, the sender can edit the message multiple times. She also believes it’s unfair to rely on victims to screenshot these messages within a time frame.

Tuegel says, “It is not uncommon for abusers in these types of situations to deny they even sent abusive messages at all, using their victim’s trauma to “gaslight” them into no longer believing they have been victimized.”

iOS 16 will not roll out until fall, so Apple has time to make changes. The attorney calls out immediate solutions that Apple can institute to aid victims and lessen the harm that could be done with iMessage edit and delete options.

Tuegel requested Apple to change the time frame to edit and delete from 15 minutes to two minutes. Perpetrators are more likely to realize they face greater risk if their messages become uneditable in a shorter time. A shorter time window will insert greater doubt into the harasser’s mind that they’ll be able to delete. Fifteen minutes is quite a long period of time to be able to edit and delete messages. The average user should need much less time to recognize a mistake in the attorney’s opinion.

The letter asks Apple to notify the recipient if the sender edits or deletes a message. 9to5Mac states that, “through testing, we know that it does notify the recipient. 9to5Mac went hands-on with the update and found that users are notified when the sender edits or unsends a message. However, they do not know what the message was prior to the edit or deletion. Also, there are limitations to the feature as recipients who aren’t on iOS 16 will still see the original message.”

As Apple lets users opt-out of read receipts, Tuegel states it should let users opt-out of edit/delete. In addition, Apple could ask users if they want messages they receive to be edited or deleted by the sender. If the user chooses to opt out, they could not edit or delete their messages.

iOS 16 also brings a “Recently Deleted” feature in iMessage. With this, users can view messages they have deleted for up to 30 days. After the 30 days, the messages will automatically delete. You can manually delete messages yourself before the 30-day period ends.

iOS 16 also brings a new feature to protect victims called Safety Check. This iPhone setting is for the protection of victims of abuse. When in danger, Safety Check lets users quickly turn off others’ access to their information on their iPhones. It includes an Emergency Reset button to immediately reset access for all people and apps. There feature allows users to cut ties quickly and easily from a partner they’ve previously shared their information with.

The conclusion of Tuegel’s letter states: “Apple is a leader in the technology industry, and the rollout of these new iMessage features provides the company an opportunity to lead by example and influence how other messaging platforms should protect their users from harassment and abuse. While I do not believe Apple is purposefully seeking to engage in any harm by the announcement of its new iMessage feature, I hope you will take these concerns seriously to ensure the rights of victims and survivors are respected and accounted for.”

Here at Sensei, we handle a lot of these cases – so these moves are concerning to us. We hope that Apple takes a hard look at what it proposes to do and what the ramifications might be.

Sharon D. Nelson, Esq., PresidentSensei Enterprises, Inc.
3975 University Drive, Suite 225Fairfax, VA 22030
Email:   Phone: 703-359-0700
Digital Forensics/Cybersecurity/Information Technology