iOS 16 has just come out, and it includes a groundbreaking feature: the ability to edit or unsend messages.
The unsend feature makes it like the text was never there in the first place. But if that text included incriminating information necessary for a lawsuit, that presents a huge problem.
Screenshots and logs of conversations are often helpful proof in a case. But when the perpetrator can delete evidence, that provides a whole new level of complexity.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how the unsend message feature could affect future lawsuits.
How Does the iOS 16 Unsend Message Feature Work?
Once you get the new iOS 16 update, the unsend feature is very easy to use. You simply hold the message, then select the option “Undo Send.” Apple then removes the message from the devices of the sender and the recipient.
Some evidence does remain of unsent messages. The recipient will receive a notification that you unsent the message. That means it is impossible to unsend a message without a recipient’s knowledge.
Notably, the unsend feature only works for up to two minutes. If you do not unsend a message within two minutes of sending it, it’s impossible to delete it.
However, this feature does not work across the board. For starters, it only works between Apple devices (iPhone to iPhone). You cannot use the unsend feature while chatting with an Android device, since Android does not support Apple’s iMessage Further, it only works on devices with the iOS 16 update and above. If a phone with iOS 16 sends a message to a phone with iOS 15 and below, it’s impossible to unsend the message.
This means that at the moment of writing, only iPhones running iOS 16 can unsend messages. If an iPhone sends a message to someone with an iPad, that message will remain on the iPad. This is because iOS 16 has not yet been released for the iPad.
Can You Recover Unsent Messages?
As of the moment of writing, the answer appears to be no.
When you unsend a message, it disappears from the sender and recipient devices, as well as their cloud backups. You can recover deleted messages after 30 days, but such is not the case for the unsend message feature. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
With that said, the question is whether Apple will give law enforcement user data. Big data companies have a long history of cooperating with the government for cases.
Apple has a track record of being privacy-centric. CEO Tim Cook has made it a point to say that Apple defends user privacy even when the government comes knocking. Apple lives up to its promise, too. In several instances, they have refused to provide user data to authorities. That means it’s highly unlikely that you could subpoena Apple to divulge user information.
To add to this complexity, iMessage-enabled devices don’t always send messages over standard cell networks. Two iMessage devices can send messages to each other entirely over WiFi or data. Since iMessage uses end-to-end encryption, that means it’s virtually impossible for a cell network to intercept and store these messages.
How Does This Affect Your Lawsuits?
The obvious answer is that a criminal can hide the evidence of their words. They could sexually harass a co-worker and then unsend the message so that co-worker cannot report it to HR. While the two-minute time limit is a tight window, that’s still enough time to rethink a potentially incriminating text.
It also allows criminals to send threats, warnings, or other abusive messages, and then quickly delete them. They could give you just enough time to read their words before unsending the message.
This could make it difficult for you to build a case. After feeling endangered, you might not be in the correct state of mind to gather evidence. Or, you may not want to risk angering the perpetrator further.
Since it’s unlikely that Apple would cooperate, retrieving that text could prove impossible. Cell networks would be unable to provide records of these messages due to the encryption.
Ways to Get Around the Unsend Message Feature
The best bet for you is to take a screenshot the moment you get a text. That way, you still have evidence once it disappears.
This presents a legal dilemma, however. The defendant’s lawyer could argue that a screenshot was doctored to show the incriminating text. A judge may rule the evidence inadmissible.
That said, this claim might be a hard sell with a court that is competent with digital technology. Screenshots include metadata that tells when the screenshot was taken, its resolution, and other file characteristics.
It could be difficult for someone to edit a screenshot and insert a false text. Tech experts could easily discover tells of a doctored photo with digital forensics, making your case stronger.
In other cases, you may be protected by simply not having iOS 16. If you have an Apple device with iOS 15 or below, you’ll have a record of that text. The same goes if you have an Android device.
If the evidence appeared in a group chat, that may be another way to get around the unsend feature. If one of the devices in the group chat is iOS 15 or below, the text will remain on that device. The user can capture a screenshot and send it to you.
Finally, you may have a copy of the text in your backup to iCloud or another cloud service. It’s important that once you receive the text, you stop all future backups. Then you can retrieve the message before it was unsent.
Get Help With Your Case
iOS 16 was a long-awaited update that offered the ability to unsend messages. The unsend feature permits a perpetrator to remove evidence and makes it nearly impossible to recover it. Know how this might affect your case and come prepared.
Not sure where to start? McOmber McOmber & Luber are here to help. Contact us today for unmatched legal assistance.