The US Patent and Trademark Office today approved a patent that has been floating around from Apple since 2008 for something called “Text-based communication control for personal communication device”. A loose translation to your average person is, “don’t try texting anything naughty, or we’ll censor it.”

Apple’s new patent reads as follows:

iPhone textingSystems, devices, and methods are provided for enabling a user to control the content of text-based messages sent to or received from an administered device. In some embodiments, a message will be blocked (incoming or outgoing) if the message includes forbidden content. In other embodiments, the objectionable content is removed from the message prior to transmission or as part of the receiving process. The content of such a message is controlled by filtering the message based on defined criteria. The criteria may be defined according to a parental control application. These techniques also may be used, in accordance with instructional embodiments, to require the administered devices to include certain text in messages. 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.

While the the bit about Spanish at the end is intriguing, this really boils down to trying to prevent the growing trend of “sexting” amongst teenagers.  For those unfamiliar with the term – despite the fact I think every magazine in the grocery store checkout line has had a headline that reads “IS YOUR CHILD SEXTING?!?” – it is the act of sending sexually charged or explicit messages between two people, and it has become quite common in high schools.

Where I think this concept falls down is that it only discusses text-based messages.  Will there be a way to filter out photos being sent also?  One of the other aspects of “sexting” is the sending of pictures of one’s private parts.  Unless there is also a way to stop certain parties from attaching pictures, then it may as well be useless.

Let us also not forget how ingenious kids can be.  Back in the day that numeric pagers were all the rage, they came up with all sorts of codes to spell things out are communicate what they meant.  And will this also be able to filter out l33t speak?  I.E. if a kid spells it “s3x”, will the filter still catch it?  Can you possibly put in every spelling and permutation of a word?

While this pointedly mentions “parental controls”, there does seem to be some other intriguing concepts it could be applied to.  Imagine you are issued an iPhone by your employer, they could set it to filter out any mentions of the TPS reports because those are considered classified info.  Don’t want an employee to talk about an upcoming product?  Filter out any words related to it.  Yes, it’s a bit “Big Brother-ish”, but that just seems to be the way technology is going.

Just because a patent is filed doesn’t mean it will ever be put to use, but don’t be too surprised if we see this pop up in the iPhone somewhere down the road.

What say you?  Good or bad idea?