The biggest iOS 5 bug you've never heard of

There is a huge bug when Group Messaging is disabled in iOS 5. I'm shocked Apple hasn't fixed this yet.

Today a friend sent out a text message blast, announcing they got a new phone number. Shortly after, I got text messages from three random people I don't know. I was confused how these people got my number, but then I realized they were replies intended for my friend who sent out the text blast.

If you've ever used the Group Messaging feature, it's supposed to thread messages sent to groups, showing the person's name above their reply. But in order to use this feature, you have to explicitly enable Group Messaging.

If you don't enable Group Messaging, messages from anyone who replies will be sent as text messages to everyone on the thread. But what's worse: your reply will, unbeknownst to you, be sent to everyone on the group message. The problem is that there is absolutely no indication your reply will be sent to anyone other than the person you're replying to. If you don't have Group Messaging enabled, it's pretty cut and dry: your reply should not be sent to the entire group.

I kind assume this is an Apple backward compatibility "feature," but I'm not the only person surprised by how this works. In this Apple Support thread, representatives from both Apple and cell phone companies were shocked to discover replies get sent to everybody on the thread.

Apple really screwed up on this one. If you have Group Messaging disabled, you shouldn't be getting replies from people you don't know. But more importantly, your reply shouldn't be sent to a group of people without your knowledge.

The biggest err on Apple's side is the lack of communication of how this feature works. You can't just change how text messaging works without informing people. There needs to be instructions around the Group Messaging feature that explains if you turn the feature off, your reply can get sent to a whole host of people without your knowledge or intent.

58 responses
Ran in to this with my wife and her family the other day. Took us a while to figure out what was going on.
This was present in iOS4 as well. Nothing new, been around for over a year at this point.

When you group message there is an inherent reply-all... It works that way on all phones... since the beginning of time. All of them.

This guy just doesn't understand how text messaging works.

Umm not if you don't have Group Messaging enabled. Thus the post. Try reading more carefully next time. =]
If you don't understand the behavior of the feature, this does not qualify as a bug.
If it changes the core functionality of an existing feature (not to mention a worldwide standard), it's a bug.
It took you a little while to play with the new iOS and figure it out. This is the anticipated behavior. Not a bug. Sounds like everyone else on these comments kind of agrees with me- sorry.
Cory, how would you expect iOS to handle receiving a text message sent from multiple recipients?

If a slider to enable group mms has been slid, it groups them. If it hasn't been enabled... then there is no grouping.

Those of you who think this is a "feature" got it backwards.

Group Messaging = OFF
Expectation: Messages NOT sent to the Group

Group Messaging = ON
Expectation: Messages sent to the Group

But Apple has it wrong ... reversed ... because message sent with GM OFF are sent to the entire Group, and those sent with GM ON are not.

How can that possibly be intuitive/logical/intentional? It's a bug. Crappy design.

Its not a feature, its an "enhancement" to the iOS. Crappy design does not mean its a bug - Brock gets it.
Have you filed a bug report with Apple?
This was present in ios 4 but worked differently from the built in ios 5 group messaging. I have tested this with a Verizon iPhone 4. If a Verizon user sends an mms all the recipients can reply but their reply goes to all. I tested this mms bug on a sprint iPhone 4s and it did not happen. Something to do with how Verizon handles mms.
OMG! What a bug! They need to take the iPhone off the shelves immediately. Oh wait, how did this ever get to the front page of Hacker news? You mean that group messaging works exactly the same as email? Shock! Horror! The humanity! Jesus H. Christ, I also don't know how they haven't already fixed this bug. It's like, totally stopping their OS from taking over the world. Or perhaps it's not a bug and you're just really clutching at straws. When you reply to a group message, it sends the reply to everybody? God almighty, that's not obvious. Actually, wait, it is.
Did you not even read the post? There was no indication that it was a group message. I started receiving messages from random people I didn't know and didn't know why I was getting them. (I provided the screenshot of a *real* group message to show what it *should* look like.)
Tyler: My phone doesn't (Android).
No previous phone i've had has done it, either. LG, Motorola, and other feature phones.
I send a message to 10 people, and get individual replies from them, and none of them see each others messages. It has never been that way... Since the beginning of time... None of them... Maybe you don't fully understand how text messaging works.
I'm with the author on this one, and RiVenoX. No phone I have ever owned replied to everyone on mms or sms. I've never even had the option. So given the option of "Group Messaging" I would expect that enabling would change the conventional behavior of mms and sms while disabling it would keep conventional behavior, replies are sent only to the sender.
If there's no visual indication that you're sending a reply message to people whose existence is neither indicated nor addresses made visible, that is a bona fide user experience issue.

If you haven't activated send-to-group, that should mean that messages you originate aren't sent to a group. It could mean that replies to messages sent to group are, because a proper reply replies cc's parties of the conversation. The thing is, the code must make what it is doing on your behalf very clear, and allow you to intervene.

I totally agree with the author of this article and it is present on iOS 4 on the AT&T network as well.

I have owned Nokia, Motorola, & Sony phones. None of them reply to all automatically when you reply to a group message.

The design of Apple's messaging thread UI does not really intuitively allow one to see the other recipients and remove them.

All of you defending this behavior of iOS have obviously never used this function on EVERY OTHER MANUFACTURER'S phones or you just worship at the altar of Jobs.

Hi Cory, I agree with you, there should be some indication that it is a group message AND if the "feature" is turned off, I feel you should be EXCLUDED from receiving replies.

For me the first is bad design and the second is based on my expectation.

I also agree with woodshedding

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You never provide an example where someone had Group Messaging turned off and yet sent a many-recipient reply.

Did you ask any of those people who accidentally did a reply-all if their Group Messaging was off? My guess is that they all had it on. The recent iOS5 release turned this on by default. Your personal setting does not prevent you from getting messages from others when everyone else has it on.

Actually I had this happen to me. Here was the scenario. My wife group messaged to contacts using her iPhone.
One of the recievers of the group message was not on an iPhone but hit just reply to the message.
The recipients message was broadcast to all the people on the original send including me.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.

Ok, so a non-iPhone device user replied to ALL, according to woodshedding. Was the replier aware that he was replying to ALL?

To me, expected behavior is that the software should clearly display the effect of an action such as Reply. So there needs to be a Reply ALL, or a Reply Just To Sender, or somehow show to whom the message will go.

Using Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, if I remember right, if you receive an email via a list, and you forward that email to a specific address with comments, it will also send your commented version back to the entire original list of recipients. That caught me by surprise, there was no indication at all who else other than who I specified was going to get a copy.

Same happens on an Android phone - if I receive a text message (MMS style) that has been sent to multiple recipients and I reply, it goes back to everyone. I don't think this is an iOS specific problem.
I agree that this is a bug. Had this happen to me over the weekend and everyone thought it was a virus. I think the issue is that iMessage and group messaging are on by default. I turned off both and it looked like that fixed the issue. If a non-iPhone user replies to a text message from one person, they don't expect it to go to a bunch of people. This also has privacy implications because people's phone numbers are being inadvertently broadcast to other people's cell phones.
Hello Cory,

I have been following this discussion since a few days ago and would like to comment on my opinion/ideas about the subject. However, there is a question that a need you to answer before I proceed.

I wanted to ask, did your friend (the one who sent out the text blast) send this from his iPhone? And did he have his group message feature turned on?

If these are both true, I believe I can clarify why I don't believe this is a bug.

Yes, they sent it from an iPhone with Group Messaging turned on. Since I had it disabled, I started getting replies from unknown numbers. At this point, I'm tending to believe it's not a bug per say, just really poor design by someone who didn't think through the privacy and annoyancy ramifications.
Yes you are correct. Since group messaging is enabled on your friend's phone, this enables all replies to him to be broadcast to all listed recipients. This appears to be done by design. But rather than poor design, I believe this is more due to poor infrastructure.

From a software design perspective, it only makes sense to do it this way due to the fact that non-smartphones would not know how to reply to the group.

I think the problem here is that Apple called it "group messaging." While they really should have called it "Group SMS chat messaging" or "Hosted SMS party chat" or something along those lines. =}

You're right. I think most of us equate Group Messaging to something like Blackberry Messenger, a closed service that you have to use to receive messages. The misunderstanding was that iMessages is "sort of" backward compatible in the sense that messages will get pushed from other iOS 5 users with Group Messaging turned on.

The issue is that, since there was already a standard on how these messaging systems are "supposed to" work, Apple had the job of re-educating us about them, and how theirs is different. They failed to do this, hence the confusion.

Yeah this is really annoying. My take is people are using the group messaging for the wrong purposes. In the old days you would send a "mass text" to everyone telling them about your number change or "who can take my shift tonight? ;) :*" and all that crap. And that was fine because even if your phone grouped all the responses as one thread (like handcent can do on android) it wasn't a group texting session. Group messaging makes sense in things like Beluga (RIP), Whatsapp, or even BBM. Closed environment where everyone knew what was going on. Mark is on to something there. Now the group message works the same as those, but people without iPhones (or with iPhones and Group Messaging turned off) don't know the difference. To them it's just a mass text. Until they keep getting replies from everyone in the group and they decide to delete the thread starter from their facebook friends even though that does nothing for the actual problem but they feel a little better about it anyway...ok i'm done.
There should be an option - in the group message reply - that allows you to choose to Send to Group or a simple Reply. You should also be able to remove people from the group text message list.
This is a bug!! Why has this not been fixed. If I don't send a group message, I don't expect that a message that I respond to will be a group response. When I review the messge, I cannot even tell it was sent as a group message. If I make a private response to the sender, it goes to the entire distribution list, unknown to me until I receive a message from someone asking, "who is this?" Never had this kind of problem with Blackberry!
Ok, I'm not a "techy", i just got the iphone 4, and I'm getting confused. I have had this problem, several times, and now that I have the iphone4 people I text have this problem. Today, I send a picture out to 4 people. Each persons response was sent to the whole group because there is no option to send "reply" or "reply all". Not everyone needs to hear each other's responses, nor do they want to, so this is frustrating :( I just checked my settings and my group messaging is "On". So, do I need to change it to off, or is it because those who were included in my message have their Group messaging set to "off" and need to set it to "on"??
it's actually even worse, if you somehow get included in a group and you DON'T have an iphone. you end up getting spammed with hundreds of replies to the group, even if you don't have anything to say to anyone in the group...

The truth is: there isn't a normal way to group text on the iPhone at this time.
I've tried turning on and off group messaging, and there is still no way to simply send a group of your contacts one message without the chance of them replying it it being sent to everyone that was originally on the list. This is intrusive, it evades privacy, and it is wrong. Bug or no bug, it isn't right and needs a solution.

One person said the solution is to not only turn off the group messaging feature but also the MMS feature and that will do the trick.

Well guess what, I like to MMS, so that isn't a real solution.

Apple, we'd like a solution please.

Brion, nobody fucking agrees with you. This is fucking gay. I was having a conversation with a friend, he snuck in a group text, and the rest of our convo went to 10 people. Fucking gay. Thats not a feature its a bug you dipshit.
This is definitely a huge design flaw because it has the same problem in a way I haven't seen mentioned here yet. I have an Android phone, NOT an iPhone. I sent a text to five of my friends, two of them have Windows phones, two had android and ONE had an iPhone. Because that ONE person had an iPhone, everyone started getting everyones responses, despite there being no indication that anyone was replying to anyone but me, but not not until AFTER the one iPhone responded. Any messages before that stayed between myself and the responder.
all of you arguing that this is how it is supposed to work are idiots. I have group messaging turned off yet when I send a message to more than one contact, which I should be able to do, not only do the phone numbers of all recipients show up to everyone (unless that number is in others contacts, then the name shows up), but when certain people reply to me, everyone gets the message. but not when certain people reply. havent wasted my time to find out which have iPhones, and which have group messaging on/off, etc

this is a huge privacy issue. there should be an option to either "reply all", or "reply to sender" (like email, and actually a useful feature), or at least show the names/numbers in the reply text header and allow the sender to edit/delete who it goes to.


You guys are noobs. this is a very basic feature and there is nothing confusing about this. Group messaging means group messaging and the entire group will get the messages. how can you guys be soooo noobish about this and make a post on this???????
Not only is every who defends this as a feature a raving lunatic, this is horribly anoying as its not a cross feature to android, and i have no choice but accept you stupid iphone users getting me wtih 10-20 msgs, which if you haven't checked cost people actual money (luckily i'm unlimited). further, android doesn't do this, you send a group txt, and everyone replies to you. just the way txt msg has ALWAYS worked.

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I have an Iphone and when you reply to a grpip message it does not give you the "option" to reply to all or sender. I had innstances myself where my reply went back to everyone and I received messages back asking who is this. From what I understand this has alwaya been the same with the Iphone.
With some of the newer group messaging (my favorite is problems like this are less likely. These settings are better, and there are also far more features.
I found a good blog which focusses on the latest messaging apps for iOS and Android, maybe this is also interesting to you:
I've recently tested this extensively using a couple of friend's iPhones w. iOS 5 and 6, running on verizon and sprint. The behavior is different for SMS vs MMS. If I turn off group messaging and send a SMS to several recipients, as expected they will only see my number and NOT each other's numbers regardless of their group messaging settings. However, when I send a MMS to several recipients (still w my group messaging feature off) they can actually see each other's numbers as long as their group messaging is on !!! In other words, the group messaging behavior for mms can not be controlled by the sender, but depend on the recipient's settings. This happened across both sprint and Verizon networks, so I presume it's not a provider-specific issue. After all, SMS/MMS was never meant/designed for group messaging, so all these "enhancements" are probably on top of the standard SMS/mms protocols (and no, SMS/mms behavior isn't like email at all- there's no such thing as reply-all in standard protocols AFAIK). In any case, this is worse than a bug- it's a gaping security hole (I.e. phone numbers being exposed to strangers without sender's knowledge!). Hence, when any recipient you don't even know has their group messaging on and replies to a group mms from someone you know, you'll be getting messages from complete strangers! Of course if a sender has their group messaging on, they'll "knowingly" expose everyone's numbers to everyone else and you mighy still get responses from strangers or simply unsolicited responses (just like you would if someone emails a group using To: or CC: instead of BCC:) I'm actually surprised Apple hasn't gotten slapped with a law suit over this major privacy violation!
The biggest iOS 5 bug you've never heard of - Cory Watilo
For those posting that it works like email and should, I disagree. I have a choice with email. I choose to reply to all or to reply to sender. With Group Messaging turned on I have no choices. If I send or receive a group message all responses go to all. At least that is my experience. My BB torch was the same way. No option to reply to sender. A cousin with a different phone could choose ( I don't know what type of phone it was) That is how it should be.
Because Apple is the trend setter, the industry leader, I EXPECT them to make these types of features available. This is an oversight on their part. Maybe not a bug, but definitely a mistake or missing feature that SHOULD be available to me without going into settings.
I agree with the poster. Those of you who think this is OK should set higher standards for the products you overpay for from Apple.
If I fwd a group text to another person (and make additional comments) does the original sender and everyone else receive their response too?
If I fwd a group text to another person (and make additional comments) does the original sender and everyone else receive their response too?
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