Congrats, Apple sleuths, for 'breaking' a four-month-old story

Lots of bloggers fumed at Apple and iCloud's adverse reaction to 'barely legal teen' -- all while ignoring the original source

One of the unwritten rules in Hollywood is that if something is remotely successful, a sequel is inevitable. It turns out the same is also true in the blogosphere.

Last November, I wrote about a Cringely reader named Stephen G. who discovered Apple's iCloud was censoring the emails of his clients without telling anyone. Anything with the phrase "barely legal teens" in the email body or an attachment was automatically sent into the ether -- not shunted to a spam folder, just 86'd without notice.

[ Cringely reported on Apple's itchy trigger finger first -- and best -- in "Hollywood whodunit: What's eating emails in iCloud?" | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Stephen G. creates software used by screenwriters, one of whom couldn't figure out why emails containing PDFs of his 109-page opus kept disappearing on the way to his agent. They figured it out: Copies of the script containing the words "barely legal teen" were blocked, while those without the offending phrase went through without a hitch. I went back and forth with Steven on email, tried to contact Apple for comment (fat chance), wrote about it, then moved on to other topics.

Last week I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a tweet that read: "It appears that Apple has gone insane. They absolutely have to address this publicly" with a bit.ly link." Who could resist?

Congrats, Apple sleuths, for 'breaking' a four-month-old story

I clicked the link and was surprised to find my November blog post -- or rather, a rapidly summarized version of it -- on the Cult of Mac blog. The author, Buster Heine (that's his real name, I swear), had tried to send emails containing the offending phrase via iCloud and couldn't. Like me, he also tried and failed to get comment from Apple. That's about it.

Why, I wondered, was this suddenly "news"?

Two days after that, a longer but otherwise identical story appeared in Macworld UK, InfoWorld's IDG sister site across the pond. Displaying a ninja-like command of the passive voice, editor in chief Mark Hattersley wrote: "Apple's iCloud email service deletes all emails that contain the phrase 'barely legal teen' it was revealed today."

Hattersley did a scosh more testing than Heine, but otherwise it was the same story, based on something I wrote four months ago. A few hours later, Dan Moren and Lex Friedman of Macworld US did a follow-up with more rigorous testing and came to the same conclusion. However, they at least managed to get someone from Apple to comment, kinda sorta. Per Apple:

Occasionally, automated spam filters may incorrectly block legitimate email. If the customer feels that a legitimate message is blocked, we encourage customers to report it to AppleCare.

Macworld responds, quite rightly: "Of course, that introduces a sort of existential dilemma here: How do you report the nonarrival of an email that you never received?"

From there, the story blew up. It appeared on the websites of several U.K. and U.S. newspapers, Gizmodo, Gawker, VentureBeat, Huffington Post, Ars Technica, Boing Boing, and The Verge, among others. All of them credited one Macworld or the other as the source of the story. Only one of them linked here.

Of a dozen or so stories I scanned, only The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) and Read Write Web noted that the blog you are now reading was the original source of the story, as well as the fact it was four months old, in the lead. Thank you, Randy Nelson of TUAW and John Paul Titlow of RWW for actually clicking the link in the Macworld UK story and reading it. Shame on the rest of you.

Why did a post I wrote nearly four months ago suddenly become a hot topic on the InterWebs? I decided to find out. It turns out Cult of Mac's Heine blog saw my original post highlighted on the BuzzFeed FWD Twitter stream. Twenty-five minutes later, Buster had his version online.

I asked BuzzFeed Tech editor John Herrman where he found the story. He says he first saw it on on his Twitter stream, posted by a Mac/iOS developer in Oregon named Justin Miller. For his part, Miller says he heard about it on an IRC chat with some friends.

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