Correcting or deleting your messages, Apple’s “revolution” not without danger

While Apple will launch a new function this fall to correct or delete sent messages, many questions surround this “revolution”, which could be misused by malicious users and which poses real technical challenges.

While writing messages on our mobile phones, we “commit” many spelling mistakes. Sometimes it’s our phone’s autocorrect that makes us write nonsense. From time to time, we get the wrong addressee. And more rarely, we write nonsense under the influence of alcohol or emotion.

Good news, it will soon be possible to edit or delete text messages on your iPhone. Apple announced this week this new feature, available this fall.

But it will be necessary to act quickly: the person who sends a message will have fifteen minutes to edit the latter once sent. The message may also be deleted on the recipient’s phone, no later than a quarter of an hour after it was sent in this case as well.

If the WhatsApp messaging service already allows you to delete messages, no major messaging system, apart from Slack, currently allows editing a message. WhatsApp is also rumored to be testing this feature, which could be introduced in the coming months.

Free rein to malevolence

On Twitter, too, it is not possible to modify a message afterwards. Multi-billionaire Elon Musk, who could buy the social network, is a strong supporter of this new function, but it is not certain that it will be launched.

These hesitations have their reason for being: modifying a message after the fact involves enormous stakes. In the case of a person who harasses another with messages, the aggressor could, in a few clicks, erase all traces of their misdeeds by deleting – or even worse, modifying – their writings. The victim will then have no evidence to show, unless he had the presence of mind to take screenshots.

Modifying a message afterwards also opens up the possibility of completely rewriting a conversation and of manipulating the interlocutor. These risks are very real, especially in exchanges between adolescents.

Compatibility in question

The tech giants are aware of these issues, which is why they are so reluctant to launch these new functions. And this is also why Apple will set the limit of fifteen minutes to be able to modify a message. But even in a quarter of an hour, the risk of doing great damage exists.

Technical issues also exist in the launch of such a function. Not only will Apple’s new feature only work between two iPhones, it will also have to be two recent models. The same problem will exist with WhatsApp: if the two correspondents do not have a recent version of the application, it will probably be impossible to correct a message, or to know if it has been modified.

Radio subject: Anouch Seydtaghia

Web adaptation: Katharina Kubicek

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