On Thursday, if you tried to navigate to WORLD’s website on your iPhone’s Safari browser, you might have seen the following message: “You cannot browse ‘worldmag.com’ because it is restricted.”
The browser roadblock is a result of a new parental control feature on iOS 7, the newest operating system for Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. When the “Limit Adult Content” setting is enabled for websites within the operating system’s “Restrictions” menu, the device blocks a seemingly arbitrary assortment of websites, including WORLD’s. In order to bypass the restriction and access the site, the user must enter a four-digit pass code assigned to filter settings.
WORLD isn’t alone as a target of the adult content filter: The websites of Christianity Today, the ESV Bible, and the Family Research Council were blocked as well. So was Mormon.org, a website run by the Mormon Church. But Religion News Service was accessible. The Christian Post was accessible on Wednesday, but blocked on Thursday.
The internet parental control function is a new addition to Apple’s mobile operating system. When Apple announced iOS 7 in June, the company noted, “Enhanced Parental Controls allow you to automatically block access to adult websites or only allow access to a specific set of permitted websites.” The previous version of iOS only allowed users to turn Safari on or off.
A spokeswoman for Apple did not return a request for comment in time for this article.
Using my iPhone, I tested the “enhanced” controls on a variety of websites on Wednesday and Thursday after David Kent, a Christian writer, tweeted about the filter problem. While some sites with controversial or explicit content were blocked, others were not. At best, the results suggest the operating system’s adult content filter is profoundly buggy. At worse, they suggest the filter is aimed at politically incorrect content, rather than PG-13 content.
For example, Apple’s adult content filter sometimes was blocking the website of GLAAD, a group promoting homosexual rights, on Wednesday but not on Thursday. The site for another pro–homosexual rights group, Human Rights Campaign, was blocked on both days. Abortion was a mixed bag: Prolife.com and PlannedParenthood.org were blocked, while the websites of NARAL Pro-Choice America and National Right to Life were accessible. Other tested sites included Bible.org (blocked on Wednesday but not Thursday), JesusFilm.org (allowed), Catholic.org (allowed), Witchcraft.com.au (blocked), BuddhaNet.net (allowed), and Abortion.com (allowed). The website for Patheos, an online host for a variety of religious commentary, was blocked on Wednesday but accessible on Thursday.
While Apple’s filter blocked WORLD’s website, it allowed news websites that often carry racy content on their home pages, including the websites of The Sun, a risqué British tabloid; MailOnline.com; and The Huffington Post. The websites of Vogue, People, Salon, and Slate were also accessible.
In some cases, the Safari browser displayed the home page of a website but blocked certain links or articles. The browser blocked some (but not all) sexually themed entertainment articles on certain news websites. It blocked the “Psychology Topics” link on the American Psychological Association’s website, which contained a tag marked “Sexuality.”
The website home page of John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, is accessible, but “Topic Index” and “Articles” links are not.