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How Has iPhone’s SMS Preview Gotten You Into Trouble?


Mar 5, 20082514Views122Comments

iPhone text privacy

Update: The SMS Preview privacy issue is now resolved as of the iPhone 3.0 software update.

In my iPhone review last June, I pointed out a big privacy concern I had about iPhone’s SMS application: namely, the inability to turn off SMS Preview, which interrupts whatever you’re doing when you receive a text message and displays an excerpt of the message content on your screen.

As you can imagine, this can create an awkward situation when you receive a private text message and someone else is using your iPhone.

Imagine receiving a text message like the one shown above while you’re showing off your iPhone to your boss or to a coworker. (The message above was staged, I swear!)

Or perhaps you’re:

  • watching a movie or YouTube video with someone, or
  • letting a friend check their e-mail, or
  • sharing photos with family, or
  • having your copilot navigate using Google Maps

and then… *INCOMING*

…you receive a crude text from a buddy, a sexy message from your significant other, or some other private text message.

Ouch. iPhone’s SMS Preview could get you into some pretty humiliating situations.

So I’m wondering…

Has SMS Preview gotten you into trouble?

I was surprised to see how many people shared my concern about this privacy issue when I posted a sort of solution to turning off SMS Preview (which requires you to set a tedious passcode lock on your iPhone and does not always work, according to some readers).

Now I’m asking you to share any embarrassing moments or close calls you’ve had due to privacy issues with iPhone’s SMS preview.

Let’s get a discussion going in the comments so we can show Apple that SMS Preview is a real privacy concern that MUST be addressed in the next iPhone firmware update.

I’ll go first:

Recently I was at a meeting and someone in my group had to reference a PDF file but had forgotten her laptop. Since iPhone supports PDF files, I offered up my phone.

As she was scrolling through the page with the iPhone set on the table, in comes a private text message from my ex-girlfriend. Upon hearing the ring, I said “excuse me” and quickly grabbed my phone.

I avoided a potentially embarrassing situation, but why should I have to worry about incidents like these? iPhone should display text message excerpts ONLY with my permission.

So what’s YOUR story? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Update: A commenter pointed out that a third-party app called Caterpillar solves iPhone’s SMS privacy issue. Click to read my review of the Caterpillar app’s Privacy feature.

What 3rd-Party iPhone Apps Are You Looking Forward To?

Will Apple “Borrow” Features from Developers’ iPhone Apps?

120 Comments

  1. I had some naughty texts sent to me from a girl at work, I deleted them from my messages all good, wrong, my girlfriend wanted to search the web on my phone and started typing on the search iPhone bar what she wanted and as she began to type a message that I had deleted appearing in the top suggestions , omg how to explain ??? I cannot delete them fully, yep words started !!! :( bloody phone

  2. If you have the new 5.1.1 version, you don’t have to get a passcode for your phone in order to hide text message previews.

    Go to Settings>Notifications>Messages>scroll down>Turn Show Preview Off.

    And there! :)

  3. Can anyone tell me why my iphone 4s does not have the option to turn SMS preview off when i go to Settings–> General–> Passcode Lock?
    There is simply no place that allows me to turn this feature off.

  4. Maybe if you guys didn’t have things in your phone that you shouldn’t then there would be nothing to worry about.

    For example, you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and they have your phone… So what if they see a preview, or the entire text.

    Bottom line is. Stop screwing around and keep your pants on and you won’t have any issues.

  5. this is so irritating because the iPhone 4 can lock names and such but I’m finding it impossible to figure out how to do it for the iPhone 4s. IF you haven’t already found out how to lock your names, go to settings passcode lock and disable sms or whatever settings, set to no.

    And to all the people who want to come on here and preach about relationships and why it shouldn’t matter what people are texting you, do everyone a favor and STFU. This has nada to do with relationships, it could be not wanting your parents to see a dirty joke your best bud sent your, or a naughty pic your gf decides to surprise you with at work. Bitterness shouldn’t be a reason for your ‘advice’

  6. Coming from a real, live Doctor of Psychology, relishing in the opportunistic freedom an open forum provides in posting my unsolicited advice, worded as the mood so guides me, I am urged to say to posters [NW], [Sophie Anne Leclurq] and, had you said any more, [littleletters], too –> You all are incredibly ignorant in your know-it-all posts, so much as to have made me feel embarrassment for you. Get a clue, like, an education, perhaps, may do you some good. Yes, try that. I suspect, only then will you be capable of composing a truly “smart” message v.s. a message that translates to, “OMG, People. You are all such shit. And I-I-I-I-I am going to tell you how it is because blah, blah, blah…” – SHUT THE *#!@ UP. Seriously, you condescending pricks. AS IF, we hundreds of people have no right or good reason to dislike a, clearly, disliked phone feature. Your messages are painfully foolish, as I am so ached with your annoyance. I had to get this all off my chest, so is the reason I post to let you know, with much hope, you so happen to read this and, with even more hope, you may benefit from it! And, Sophie, I would sure care to learn from you WHERE IS THE SHAME IN HAVING SOMETHING TO HIDE FROM SOMEONE/BEING SNEAKY? I have all sorts of things I want or need to hide from all sorts of people. You could say, I am sneaky as fuck! You do not know of this experience? Hahahaha!! Very much improbable, if not impossible. I now name you as a full-of-shit, self-righteous, pig-headed liar and hypocrite. Really, great job on the post. …As per the topic at hand, we have all heard, from the horse’s mouth, the iphone boast of its accessibility to “millions of apps,” and so (what is it they say at the end of one of the new iphone commercials?? -) “THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.” (Something like that.) Sound familiar? That being the case, so be it the existence of an infinite # of possibilities of how, why and when whomever-the-hell’s eyes may happen to gaze upon my iphone screen at some random moment, that random person, sends the random text that, due to Murphy’s Law, will, undoubtably, create the highly unlikely, most unfavorable, sure-to-be poorly explained situation that never-were-to-have-been had Macasshole not, NOT ONLY, OPENED MY MAIL (a Federal offense, virtually-speaking), but PLASTERED IT AS A BANNER ACROSS THE TOP OF MY SCREEN, complete with bells and whistles in a catchy little tune, even the oblivious take notice. Ummmmm…bad taste in my mouth – YUCK! YOU ROTTEN APPLE!! There’s an awfully nice case made here, now lying wide open for a potentially massive suit over something you find funny?? I can’t imagine a good reason for why this is the way it is. FIX THE DAMN SHIT. YOU ARE A BAD APPLE AND WE ALL HAVE FOOD POISONING!!!

    1. R U kidding me? A doctor of What? You foul mouth unclassy person. A Doctor of anything you are not. The way you addressed the issue at hand reveals you are just a smoart mouth…probaby little Teenie. I hope no one bought into your foul spill. You now nothing about being professional. A doctor, you’re NOT.

  7. Im surprised no one cares that when someone else group texts you that everyone else they send that text to gets your phone number, thats a serious privacy issue to me.

  8. Can’t someone come up with a way to code lock text messages? Zillions of people want this and would pay to be able to lock this feature. I sure would!

  9. You people are morons.

    What ever happened to personal responsibility? I mean, if the feature is an inconvenience, by all means complain to Apple. But a privacy issue? Do you have nothing better to do? It’s your own damn phone. It is just as private as you would like it to be. A privacy issue is one where people can’t control the output of their information. You have all right to keep that phone to yourself in every single situation every day, fully controlling the output of its information to anyone other than you. You know this, yet you choose not to do it, and then call the problem a privacy issue. The privacy issue is YOU. Don’t pass this off as Apply being morally wrong for the feature, and take responsibility for yourself. I happen to hate the feature as well, but I think Apple is much more willing to listen if you just refer to it as it is – an inconvenient feature that limits your use of the product.

  10. WHY CANT MY IPHONE 4 SHUT OFF THE NAME OF INCOMING TEXT MESSAGES, APPLE YOU NEED TO FIX THIS PROBLEM ASAP, I DONT UNDERSTAND WITH ALL THE TECHNOLOGY WHY THIS CAN’T BE FIXED, THERE’S PLENTY OF PEOPLE WANTING THIS CHANGE, SO FIX THE PROBLEM

  11. What’s the difference why we do not want the name to pop up on the preview? It’s our phone, our business, and our privacy that should be being protected. Wether it’s a man cheating on a woman, woman on man, girl hiding information from their boss, or a gay guy trying to hide it from the buddies at work. It’s not Apple’s or anyone else’s place to be judge and jury to how folks should live their life. Apple should just fix the glitch because it is clearly an issue for many people for many reasons. Good grief, you can scan a barcode and find a cheaper price, tell me when I’m ovulating, and how far I ran today from the daggon thing but you can’t stop it from telling the world who is text messaging me?

  12. Similar problem, different app… I’m going crazy because my facebook app show previews of my personal message when I get them as push notifications, whilst one of my friends just gets the message “you have an pm from …” as a push. We’ve comared settings and we have the same ones…. Anybody know how to fix it? The same thing with WhatsApp….

    Sorry I know that my english isn’t the best but I’m Swedish… :-)

  13. Okay this really bugs when my family is using my iPhone and a weird message from a friend comes up. I have nothing to hide, it just bothers me when people use my phone and a message comes up.

  14. Lots of cell phones are set on coffee tables, desks and such.
    I don’t want or need anyone to see my personal or professional information light up my iPhone & display anything for all to view.
    Yes it’s nice to not have to unlock my cell for a reminder or whatever to pop up but there has to be an easier way to enable/disable these messages from popping up. It should be as simple as putting your cell on hibernate or unlocking it with your password.
    If I didn’t care about all the information on my cell, I would go back to Day Timers & leave it open.
    Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  15. I am seeing someone but not dating him. He likes to play the games on my iphone. I met someone else who sent me a nice text message asking if I’d go for drinks. It was awkward but at least it forces a conversation that just was not happening! I need sms hide.

  16. Apple should fix this, its obvious tons of people hate it. A simple “no previews at all” option in the settings tab would do the trick. If u have your phone locked, nothing at all should happen when u receive a text. There are countless scenarios where this is needed and most of them dont involve cheating or any wrong-doing on part of the phone purchaser. Respect your customers Apple.

  17. I HAVE MADE SEVERAL CALLS TO APPLE TO FIX THIS ISSUE. I GOT FIRED FROM MY JOB BECAUSE THE COMPETITIONS NAME APPEARED ON MY SMS SCREEN WHILE IN A BOARDROOM MEETING.
    APPLE COMES OUT WITH THE IPHONE 4 AND STILL HAVE NOT LISTENED TO THE PEOPLE. I AM SURE APPLE READS THE INTERNET AND HAVE SEEN HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE UPSET WITH THIS ISSUE!!!!

    THE ONLY WAY THEY WILL START LISTENING IS IF THEY:

    1. GET SUED FOR A SITUATION SIMILAR TO MINE OR

    2. PEOPLE JUST GET FED UP AND SWITCH BACK TO A MORE SECURE BLACKBERRY OR ANDROID PHONE THAT ALLOWS YOU THE OPTIONS TO MAKE THE PHONE WORK HOW YOU WANT IT.

    I HAVE MY 3GS FOR SALE AND AM SWITCHING TO A COMPANY THAT TRUELY CARES ABOUT MY SECURITY AND DISCRETION.
    WE NEED PEOPLE TO GET ON BOARD AND STICK IT TO THOSE APPLE IDIOTS IN ORDER TO MAKE CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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