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Be Careful When Deleting Conversations in Messages

In a Hacker News thread about Dustin Curtis’s locked Apple ID (see “The Mystery of Dustin Curtis’s Locked Apple ID,” 5 March 2021), there were several reports of iMessage accounts being disabled after other users inadvertently marked messages from them as spam during deletion (swipe left on a message and then tap the trash icon).

Deleting messagesUser andrewmcwatters wrote:

There’s a UX defect with Messages right now where if you delete some conversations in succession, randomly will a modal popup [sic] and ask you if you want to report the contact as spam.

Some Apple articles will tell you not to worry if you’ve accidentally reported someone as spam, but it actually does something. It’s not a pedestrian crosswalk button.

I found this out the hard way when my wife could no longer send or receive messages nor sign into Messages and we had to contact Apple support. I’ve accidentally reported tons of people as spam because of this stupid Messages experience, and I can only guess that I’ve reported my own wife so many times from clearing all of my Messages conversations that they disabled her Messages account.

He eventually got his wife’s iMessage access restored after Apple Support granted a “one-time exception.”

User rdm_blackhole reported a similar occurrence:

What a coincidence. My wife had the same issue a few months ago. It started with her not being able to send or receive iMessages.

The worst part was that there was no notification nor warning. Some of her friends actually thought that she was mad at them for some reason as they would send her messages and she according to them would not respond at all.

From her perspective though she was responding to every message but they never got them.

He also got her iMessage access restored with another “one-time exception.”

We haven’t seen other reports of this, and we can’t replicate the behavior, so it’s likely a rare issue. Regardless, be aware of the possibility. The spam-reporting prompt seems to appear only when you delete an entire conversation or delete several messages from a single conversation. If you regularly delete messages or conversations in Messages, read the prompts carefully before responding to them.

It’s not unreasonable that Apple would use the reports of spam messages to protect other users from spammers. However, it does open the door to abuse by users who would intentionally mark messages from others as spam to disable their accounts. That could happen only between people who have exchanged a sufficient number of messages, but it’s not hard to imagine it occurring in an unpleasant divorce or with a disgruntled housemate. Let us know in the comments if you’ve seen the spam-reporting prompts or if you or someone you know has had their iMessage account suspended by Apple.

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Comments About Be Careful When Deleting Conversations in Messages

Notable Replies

  1. I regularly delete Messages and individual messages. Have not experienced this

  2. I don’t think the issue is with deleting messages but with accidentally reporting deleted messages as spam.

    If you delete a bunch of messages and see a popup asking if the messages are spam, be careful to not click the wrong button.

  3. Umm, has Apple not actually considered the implications of this? Essentially this means anyone who has received a bunch of messages from you can target you. Think ex-husband, ex-boyfriend for example? So they go through, make a bunch of messages as spam and then the target can no longer use iMessages to communicate.

    Fantastic technique for cutting a person off from their support network, and yet another example of what happens when tech folks don’t think through the consequences of who they give power to.

  4. Any chance of seeing a screen grab of the prompt regarding spam?

  5. Similarly, I’ve always been under the impression that entering your Apple ID password incorrectly several times in a row will break your password so that you have to make a new one. This naturally leads to the question of the possibility of vandalism by someone who is mad at you and knows your email address.

  6. I tried to get one but it never appeared while I was deleting conversations. Anyone else?

  7. Agreed Peter. When I read this, that was my first thought as well. Not possible to scale up for a monetized attack for a sophisticated actor, but for a jilted lover / business associate etc, well hello!

  8. From reading the article, it doesn’t happen when you delete individual messages - it happens when you delete an entire conversation and then get a modal that asks if you want to mark the contact as spam. Since messages with one contact would have only one conversation thread, what you describe doesn’t seem like it would be a problem. It becomes a problem if many people do it to the same contact. (Unless I am reading that article wrong.)

  9. Hard to know for sure, since we haven’t been able to reproduce the conditions necessary to get them spam reporting dialog. But it’s easy to imagine in a broken relationship that multiple people would have Messages conversations with one of the parties and could thus conspire to have their account disable.

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