More and more, smartphones are becoming our primary tools to communicate. While we’ll still make the occasional voice call or participate in a video chat, for a lot of us, communication via smartphone is all about text. As such, it can be an incredibly dangerous assault on free speech when one of the companies behind our phones takes it upon itself to censor our language. We were just complaining about Microsoft’s censorship practices last month, but today our focus turns to Apple and iOS, upon the publication of a report detailing Apple’s efforts to single-out certain words as too objectionable to help you spell.
The team at The Daily Beast noticed a little earlier this year that Apple’s built-in spell-checker’s recommendation system seemed to be purposefully ignoring certain words. For instance, if you typed in “abortiom,” iOS would recognize the spelling as incorrect, but wouldn’t suggest that you meant to enter “abortion.”
They ended up developing a methodology for investigating this behavior, and after running the better part of the English language through iOS 6, found about 14,000 words that iOS apparently knows how to spell correctly, but never offers the correct spelling as a suggestion. While a number of them are obscure or technical words, where such behavior makes sense, the same happening for words like “rape,” “bullet,” “ammo,” “drunken,” “murder,” or “virginity” makes it hard to ignore that Apple seems to have a political interest in the choice of words we use.
While Apple isn’t engaging in outright censorship, this might be even more insidious: without ordering us to stop using certain words, and facing the backlash that would bring, it’s just trying to slyly coax us away from choosing particular ones.
As the researchers point out, not helping users spell profanity would be one thing, and such practices are common in the industry, but the extent of Apple’s secret list sure goes much beyond simple swear words.
For what it’s worth, this behavior seems to be relatively new, and some older iOS builds were more helpful with their spelling suggestions.