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Apple's iMessage edit and unsend features in iOS 16 sparking concerns about abuse

Apple has stated that users will be able to edit and unsend texts to other iPhone users via Messages — but there's good reason to be cautious about the feature.

This year, at WWDC, Apple announced a few new features coming to iMessage in iOS 16. The first would be the ability to edit recently sent messages, allowing senders to fix typos they may not have noticed by the time they hit send.

The second was the ability to "unsend" messages and delete them entirely from a conversation.

While many users appreciate these upcoming changes, others have wondered if the features could be used for nefarious purposes. Some are even concerned that Apple has overstepped its boundaries and isn't taking users' privacy and safety seriously enough by promising users the ability to change what they've sent to others.

It's a fair question, especially when you realize how much of your daily interactions take place on platforms like iMessage. There are a few things to consider and a few changes Apple could make to improve the system without revoking it entirely.

Editing messages

Editing messages is hardly new. Many chat clients, including Discord and Slack, have allowed users to edit their messages for years. Neither Slack nor Discord place a limitation on when users can edit messages.

Similarly, message boards have also allowed users to make edits, and not every message board requires users to notify other readers that there's been an edit.

Yet, it still does have some potentially worrisome connotations. No one wants to receive a text or agree to something, only to find out that it's been changed and it appears that you've consented to something you didn't.

The fifteen-minute timeframe does make this more difficult for potential abusers, but it's still worrisome.

Yet, there's a feature that Apple has already implemented — the same one used by Slack and Discord — the edited tag. Once a message has been edited, Apple informs the recipient that there has been a change. This is a fantastic way to allow users to properly scrutinize a text.

Deleting messages

Of course, Apple didn't just say that you'd be able to edit sent messages. They'd also announced that you'd be able to delete messages.

If you're like us, that may be a feature that you'd already been at least partially hoping for. If you do a lot of your talk with coworkers, family members, and friends across iMessage, you've probably accidentally sent a message to the wrong person.

Typically, it's not much of a problem. But sometimes you have to explain that you weren't asking your coworker to pick up milk on their way home from work.

Deleting those sorts of messages, which we always realize we've sent mere seconds after we've sent them, is a great way to keep messages clean and tidy.

Again, platforms like Slack and Discord both allow you to delete messages — again, with no timeframe limitations — for years. It's hardly new.

Still, it's not a perfect feature.

We'd already seen people joking about how people could revoke lewd images if they weren't met with enthusiasm, which — to be clear — is a genuine concern. So is the worry that some people — especially younger people — would be able to use it to harass peers and erase all evidence.

Of course, the fifteen-minute time limitation does help, again. But we think there are some tweaks that Apple could take to make the system better.

Potential improvements

Apple did the right thing by implementing a timeframe to edit or delete messages. But, unfortunately, fifteen minutes is a pretty long window. So we think it would be wiser if Apple shortened it to five minutes — or even less.

With a three-minute time limit, you've got plenty of time to fix a typo or delete that accidental text you sent to a coworker. After all, most of the time, you realize you've made a mistake immediately.

But by keeping the window short, it's likely that the message could be deleted or edited without the recipient noticing a change to a previously seen message. This prevents scenarios where texts could be changed to make it appear as though the recipient agreed to something they didn't.

It also helps prevent people from deleting messages that may have been read already.

Of course, users can be proactive about the change as well. For the time being, only messages sent within the iMessage protocol will allow you to edit them. By disabling iMessage and using SMS only, users prevent messages from being edited or deleted.

Preferably, we'd like owners to have a way to opt out of deletions or edits. We'll see what the betas bring going forward.