Saturday, February 11, 2012

Apple's Potemkin Parental Controls (iOS edition)

When the NYT's NYT's Tedeschi admitted to me that he'd missed the boat on iOS Parental Controls I was hoping for a correction to his NYT mobile porn article. He'd written "For parents who are uncomfortable letting children browse such content on an Apple device, the first step is to tap the Settings icon... Enable Restrictions and ... switch Safari to Off..".

Of course this doesn't really work. Last week someone I know discovered the joy of porn videos as viewed through Flight Update - with Safari and YouTube restricted. He finished off his 200MB data allowance in two half hour car drives.

How did he do it? It's not hard. In Gate Guru, for example, the 'legal' page has a link at the bottom. Tap on the link, and you get an embedded WebKit browser. Tap again to get to USA Today, from there it's a couple of taps to Google search.

This isn't a new problem. The WebKit back door has been in iOS since Apps came on board. Most non-Apple Apps have these back doors, including many educational apps. Almost any app that accepts advertising will link to an external site. The safest approach is to only allow Apple's software, but in practice many non-free games are fine.

I suspect most kids are very familiar with using this backdoor; I've seen children with 3rd percentile IQs find and exploit these loopholes in a few minutes. Adults have more trouble, it took Bob Tedeschi a few tries to find the loopholes. I suspect we're more bound by preconceptions of what's possible. (Who'd think to hide explicit emails in the Spam folder, for example?)

Apple's Potemkin parental controls are really only effective at placating parents. It seems to work though, I've been the only one complaining.

See also:

Update 3/5/12: Just demonstrated this with, which my son would love to use. There's a twitter share icon. From that it took me a couple of taps to the twitter blog. That's  rich source of links, so from there I hopped to Amazon and from Amazon I had the web. All with Safari disabled of course.

No comments: