Update: Following Apple’s August 2021 announcement of its plans to scan devices for child-sex-abuse material, the company has said it would delay implementing this system in light of criticism from customers and concern groups. The information below reflects the initial announcement only.
News of Apple’s plans to scan users’ photos hit headlines last week, igniting debates over privacy, “back door” surveillance, and the need to fight illegal content. We explain the controversy and how this affects you.
What did Apple announce?
Apple has announced several methods it will use to help combat the spread of child-sexual-abuse images (known as CSAM). The most controversial one works by scanning Apple devices for such images.
How exactly does Apple’s photo scanning work?
With Apple’s upcoming operating system updates, the company will install databases of CSAM as strings of numbers (called database hashes) onto Apple devices. The system will automatically compare images on your device before they get uploaded to your iCloud Photos account against the databases.
If a certain number of photos (Apple has said about 30) match ones in multiple databases in at least two separate countries, a human will review the images and report them to the authorities. The system does not learn anything about photos that are not flagged as matches.
Whose devices does this affect?
For now, this will affect you if you are based in the U.S., use an Apple device, and use iCloud Photos. It will come into effect once you update to the next operating system: iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 on iPhone and iPad, macOS Monterey on MacBook, and watchOS 8 on Apple Watch.
Has this type of technology been used before?
Yes, companies such as Facebook and Google scan photos uploaded to their platforms for CSAM. The difference in this case is Apple is scanning photos on devices rather than on their cloud platforms.
Why are privacy advocates objecting?
Although the new feature is meant to stop the spread of CSAM, privacy advocates see the method as increased surveillance—a cost that’s too high, particularly because technologies, once established, can potentially be expanded to other uses.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation writes that Apple “has created an infrastructure that is all too easy to redirect to greater surveillance and censorship.” It notes that while there are some safeguards in place in the U.S. to prevent abuse of this program, this is not the case in every country.
Countries have been for years appealing to Big Tech to give them access (or so-called back doors) into encrypted communications. These demands undermine the concept of encryption, which is meant to keep messages private from anyone who is not the sender or recipient, including the company that hosts the service.
The EARN IT bill, also purported to fight CSAM, received similar backlash when it was introduced last year.
Why is this a big deal for Apple and its users?
So this latest move has made waves, and Apple might have chosen this course because of pending rules surrounding CSAM in the U.S. and abroad, which could involve hefty fines for companies.
Another reason this is a big deal: the sheer number of users Apple has around the world. It raises questions over how much choice consumers have over privacy when our lives are so entrenched in the products of a small number of technology companies.
How can I prevent Apple from scanning my photos?
You could choose not to use Apple products. If you do use Apple products, you could disable iCloud Photos, since only photos being uploaded to iCloud Photos are scanned. See the link below for alternatives.
Other resources on staying private:
- Top cloud services to store photos online (free and paid)
- The best way to secure your Apple devices
- Ultimate guide to mobile security for iPhone and Android devices
- Explainer: iPhone’s new App Tracking Transparency features
- Big Tech alternative: Install LineageOS on an Android phone
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Anything that combats child abuse in general, has to be a good thing.
However, like many of these things, they dont tend to work as planned.
If one person is called out falsely and totally innocently, what then?
Also, i suspect a lack of privacy on any cloud storage or device… IOS or Android.
These companies will tell you theyre rolling something out well after theyve been running it for a long time.
I still dont believe the old WA chestnut of “we cant see what you write end 2 end encryption…”
Why would WA pay millions of dollars to put adverts on TV and radio telling us WA isnt reading our messages…. all for a free platform that makes them no money? Think about it….
If its digital – its being intercepted ;-p
freedom isnt a gift
it must be defended with the willingness to lose your own
This is terribel for our privacy …I will not use any Iphone or iwacht, cuz now Apple just “killed” customers privacy. Users should chance to Android, and show Apple this is not the right path to go. Do anyone believe Steve Jobs would allow this privacy invasion?? I don´t think so… I just used Apple because of that Privacy measures…but free to go to other platffomrs
What about the privacy of the children who are the subjects of these reptiles?
Everyone is so worried about their own privacy that companies like Express VPN are flourishing. There is no privacy. The phone companies have you by the phone, the CCTV cameras got you in view, Windows is full of back doors, Kasperski and others do a flourishing business.
If this plan catches one of these deviants, it is worth it. And as an aside Apple is protecting itself in any pedophile lawsuits where iCloud was used as a storage media. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if other cloud services go the same way. As for you privacy nuts, get real. You don’t have any.
this is not about children, this is about a step closer to taking control , 24/7 surveillance like in CHINA …folks we are losing our freedom we are back to 1938 but with technology and there is no USA who will step up to save u s.
I’m glad I don’t live in the U.S. or use Apple products.
^^ yeah, no apple product for me
seems to me the people who should be worrying are PEDOS! That is a good thing these monsters need hunting down, exposing, prosecuting and convicting! NON-PEDOS are safe!
I’m glad I don’t have any Apple products then.
That’s an old argument used by anyone objecting to the privacy being invaded. Why would you be against the government randomly checking what’s inside your house if you don’t have anything illegal? Pedos deserve prison but everyone else doesn’t need their privacy invaded.
of course you are correct
but as we can tell
fear always works when it comes to peer pressure
when they come for YOUR vote/guns/whatever, dont cry at the progressives that want to protect your privacy
First they came for the PEDOS, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a PEDO.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
1. The pedos come for the children and i did not speak out.
Excellent read. Constitutionalists and those with foresight and critical thinking skills surely appreciate.
well said Roger .. it seems that we are a minority. No one really understands what it is to lose your freedom. Pedos have nothing to do with it nor apple are saints. It’s another bite at freedom. The big brother will be watching everyone. There are many ways to fight pedos.. I have kids and I worry about them every day .. this does not mean I will place a police camera inside my house just to be on the safe side.. you don’t know and will ever know who is watching .. now and in the future.
What the article doesn’t mention is that Apple is also analyzing the photos you send to others though its messaging service.
As the WSJ puts it: “If an account designated as a child in iCloud Family Sharing receives or prepares to send a sexually explicit photo in the Messages app, the photo will appear blank. A warning message will appear, giving the child a choice to view or skip. In accounts of children 12 and under, parents can opt to receive notifications when a child views or sends such an image.”
We’re about to see a lot of teenage registered sex offenders.
But the scarier part is what might seem like a noble cause will inevitably become weaponized. For example, The Democratic National Committee is currently pushing for phone companies to step in and police private text messages for misinformation.