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Parental controls in iOS censor URLs containing 'asian' in Safari

An issue with the way iOS blocks websites in Screen Time has surfaced on social media, with reports the content restriction measure will block websites using the term "asian" in the domain name.

The Screen Time rules that can be set up in iOS provide many ways to limit how an iPhone or iPad could be used, with the intention of controlling how younger users enjoy the device. While well-meaning, it appears that part of the system needs attention by Apple.

A tweet from iOS developer Steven Shen on Thursday claimed the "Limit Adult Website" option under the Content Restrictions section of Screen Time caused problems for anyone attempting to access a website containing the word "asian" in the URL through Safari.

While the content filter doesn't allow access to URLs that use the term, The Independent reports the same sort of block doesn't happen for other terms, such as "black," "white," "Arab," "Korean," or "French."

There is the belief the term is included due to it being used as a category on adult websites for content, but at the same time the measure isn't evenly addressed. For example, while "schoolgirl" doesn't trigger the block in tests, other similar terms like "amateur," "mature," and "teen" activated it as expected.

Shen further claimed he filed a report with Apple in December 2019, but the problem wasn't addressed. While Apple doesn't disclose how it determines words to be filtered, Shen suggests it is "unlikely" to be an intentional decision, and may have been the result of AI.

Commonly referred to as the "Scunthorpe problem," content filtering systems have been the cause of many issues over the years, when automated systems prevented access to innocent content due to terminology usage.

This is not the only time Apple's content filtering systems have slipped up. The introduction of the parental controls in iOS 12 had teething issues, and subsequent reports of children being able to see violent and pornographic content, while blocking resources relating to sex education and sexual assault hotlines.

It isn't just confined to text filtering. In 2014, Apple's iTunes Radio was allowing songs with explicit language to stream to users who had it blocked by default, despite the presence of radio profanity filters.