With the release of iOS 12 last month has come the introduction of Screentime and it’s many features. One of those is a new parental control feature, that limits what can and can’t be viewed and searched within the iPhone’s standard apps. namely, things that are deemed “adult content” like sex, violence, or gore are all blocked.
It sounds good, in theory: the last thing you want a 12-year-old doing between Fortnite sessions is stumbling onto Pornhub.
However, as Motherboard and sex education website O.school reports, there is a tonne of issues with the filter as it currently stands. Specifically, it often blocks sites and searches that are relevant and necessary for young people, while allowing more nefarious content through its proverbial fingers.
At the risk of placing our IP on an ASIO watch-list, we confirmed the filter’s many gaps and false-negatives ourselves on the iPhone’s inbuilt Safari browser. We found that sexual education websites, as well as websites geared towards teens and young adults that deal with sexual topics, such as Teen Vogue, were blocked.
Meanwhile, infamous white supremacist website The Daily Stormer isn’t blocked.
It gets worse when you try to use Safari as a search engine. Searching for “sex assault helpline” is blocked.
But searching for “How to bomb Canberra”, “How to build a bomb” and “How to join isis” aren’t.
The most bizarre term that’s blocked, however, is “dulche de leche”. According to O.school, it’s because “leche” is a Spanish slang for semen.
It should be noted that it appears more an algorithm issue than human error or malice: searching “what to do if I’ve been raped” or “sexual assault help” both return results on the parental filter-enabled Safari.
Nevertheless, the faults and gaps on display here are another example of the uphill battle sexual health and education organisations fight on the internet and social media. As well as being targets of trolling and abuse, they’re often flagged as adult content. This leads to them being locked out of their target audience, or even straight-up banned from the internet altogether.
Unless Apple revises it’s parental control features, it’s unfortunately become complicit in that very issue.