Monday, August 2, 2010
Apple iPhone 4 - Two Things Parents Should be Worried About
The AP released an article today titled Adult industry sees iPorn potential in new phone. You can read the article here. In summary it talks about iPhone 4's new videoconferencing feature called FaceTime and how several porn companies have already created pornography related services for it. The iPhone 4 has two cameras, one forward-facing and one backward-facing. The backward-facing phone allows you to use your iPhone to make video calls, allowing the recipient to see your face and if they have an iPhone 4, you can see theirs. Porn companies are seeing this capability as a golden opportunity to take the "1-900" concept to a new level, providing video conferencing phone sex (obviously for a per-minute fee).
Of course this revelation gives Apple heartburn since they have removed all offensive content from iTunes. Steve Jobs was quoted as saying "it is Apples mission to keep the iPhone free from pornography." I've blogged about it in the past and I think it's admirable that they put forth the effort. So you might ask, why doesn't Apple stop this new FaceTime porn? They can't. Using FaceTime is no different than making a regular phone call. Apple can't block you from calling certain numbers on your phone and that's really what you would be doing if you used FaceTime to access one of these new porn services. You're just making a phone call and turning on your camera (as is your recipient).
Undoubtedly, this new avenue to pornography is concerning but it's not Apple's fault nor is it their responsibility to control. I also think (and this might shock you) that the pornography itself isn't the greatest risk here. The greater risk is in how FaceTime works. I won't bore you with the technical details of how FaceTime functions, but know this: In order for you to use FaceTime with another person (including a porn service) they need to have your personal cell phone number AND, in order for them to use it in this fashion, you have to give them permission. Think about that...some sleazy porn company gets your personal phone number and your permission to use your phone number for their own purposes. Great idea. How long will it be before they start calling you and charging you $9.99 per minute for it? I've also read that some of these services won't be requiring a credit card to join and that for your "convenience" they will just add the charge to your next AT&T bill. At least the credit card thing will help keep some kids away but not the automatic billing.
What should a responsible parent do? Again, my first question is...does your teenager really need a $400 iPhone? That being said, if they must have one, talk to them and remind them that since you pay the bills, you will discover the use of such a service. Then watch your credit card and AT&T bill for strange charges.
It was announced last week that there is already a "jailbreak" available for iPhone 4. What is a jailbreak? The iPhone is built to only download apps and content from iTunes. From the manufacturer, the iPhone does not have the capability to access apps or content from any other site. A jailbreak is a program that unlocks the iPhone, allowing it to download apps from a multitude of other sites, many of them geared toward porn or illegal purposes (like providing viruses for you to send to your enemy's phones). Between iTunes policies against offensive content and products like the Mobicip safe browser for the iPhone, it is very difficult for children to access bad stuff with the iPhone. But if they jailbreak the iPhone they have opened the door to an entire world of bad things, including apps that can undermine every parental control you have installed on their device.
Here is the scariest part. Kids can run a jailbreak extremely easily. By visiting a site that hosts such programs with the iPhone, a kid can run a jailbreak with a single touch of a button. Most jailbreak's are free and none of them require proof of age to run.
Also, I have to mention that many iPhones have been ruined by idiots downloading an "underground" app after a jailbreak, only to find that it hides a virus that fries the phone. There have also been cases where people have written underground apps that seem to be one thing (like porn) but are really collecting all of your personal info from your phone and sending it to some unsavory character. Underground apps are a really bad idea because the creators of them are accountable to no one.
What can a responsible parent do? This one is tough. Unless you are savvy enough to monitor the sites your kid visits from his/her iPhone, you are out of luck. If you do look at your child's Internet history on their iPhone, look for websites with the word "jailbreak" in the title. I won't list specific site addresses here because I don't want to enable any devious kids who might be reading. Other than that, there really isn't much you can do but check your child's phone for offensive apps. If you see something related to pornography or illegal activities, they probably have jailbreaked phone (I know, bad English but that's the official term).
You could also explain to them that a jailbreaked phone is very susceptible to damage via viruses and that if their iPhone is ruined as a result, you will not be replacing it. That might motivate them.