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Apple patent would enforce parental controls on texting

Patent application covers "systems, devices, and methods" that allow someone to, among other things, block messages containing "forbidden content." Plus, it's a study aid.

Apple is trying to give more power to parents over their children's use of text messages.

A depiction of how Apple's new patent would work.
A depiction of how Apple's new patent would work. USPTO/Apple

The company yesterday reportedly secured from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent 7,814,163, which covers "systems, devices, and methods" that allow a user to determine what kind of text-messaging content can be sent or received from a given device.

According to the filing, either messages will be blocked entirely or the "forbidden content" will be "removed from the message prior to transmission or as part of the receiving process." In order to filter the content, Apple said that it will use certain criteria as defined by a separate parental control application.

That application will include "objective ratings criteria or a user's age or grade level" to determine what kind of words and content will be allowed in text messages, and what will not. Whenever a text message contains inappropriate content, the applications will "alert the user, the administrator, or other designated individuals of the presence of such text." In other words, kids who are trying to get away with an unsavory text message could find their parents being alerted by the app.

Apple's filing also points out that the patent could do more than just abet prevention of inappropriate communication. The application could also be used as "an instructional tool or study aid" to help kids with text-based communication, such as grammar, spelling, or vocabulary. The app would allow administrators to send certain messages to students and ask them to respond with the proper response. If the message is grammatically incorrect, for example, the parent or administrator of the tool will be alerted to "the absence of such text."

"These embodiments might, for example, require that a certain number of Spanish words per day be included in e-mails for a child learning Spanish," the patent abstract reads.

Apple, which applied for the patent in January 2008, could be on to something with this.

Inappropriate text messages have been on the increase. In fact, Pew Research found last year that 30 percent of 17-year-olds had received sexually explicit images from others. The practice, known as sexting, is a legal issue for one, but it's also worrisome to parents who don't want their kids to be involved in such practices. Although it seems that Apple's patent relates to text, the proposed service could at least arm parents with another line of defense against their children engaging in inappropriate communication.