June 19, 2024


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Apple DELAYS plans to scan people’s iPhone photos for child sex abuse images following privacy backlash

APPLE said Friday it is pushing back the rollout of technology that will scan people’s iPhone photos for child sexual abuse imagery.

The controversial protection tools announced last month had been accused by some of undermining people’s privacy.

Apple has developed a tool that scans people's iPhone photos for imagery of child sexual abuse. The company on Friday delayed plans to roll out the technology


Apple has developed a tool that scans people’s iPhone photos for imagery of child sexual abuse. The company on Friday delayed plans to roll out the technologyCredit: AFP

The Silicon Valley giant said at the time that child sexual abuse images would be reported as they were uploaded to its online storage in the US.

However, digital rights organizations quickly noted that the tweaks to Apple’s operating systems would create a potential “backdoor” into gadgets that could allow governments or other groups to spy on users.

Apple, in announcing the delay, cited the feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others.

“We have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features,” the company said in a statement.

New technology allows the software powering Apple mobile devices to match abusive photos on a user’s phone against a database of known child sex abuse images provided by safety organizations.

The tool can then flag the images as they are uploaded to Apple’s online iCloud storage, according to the company.

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The system, if and when it goes into use, would be “powered by a cryptographic technology” to determine “if there is a match without revealing the result,” unless the image was found to contain depictions of child sexual abuse.

Critics of the policy welcomed the delay, but some child safety advocates urged Apple not to bend to those worried by the policy.

“This isn’t a fancy new touchbar: it’s a privacy compromise that affects 1bn users,” tweeted Matthew Green, who teaches cryptography at Johns Hopkins University.

“You need to justify escalations like this.”

Though Apple cited feedback from advocacy groups in its decision, not all welcomed the pause.

“This is incredibly disappointing,” tweeted Andy Borrows, head of child safety online at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

“Apple had adopted a proportionate approach that sought to balance user safety and privacy, and should have stood their ground,” he added.

The new image-monitoring feature was to be part of a series of tools heading to Apple mobile devices, according to the company.

The move would represent a major shift for Apple, which has until recently resisted efforts to weaken its encryption that prevents third parties from seeing private messages.

Apple notably resisted a legal effort to weaken iPhone encryption to allow authorities to read messages from a suspect in a 2015 bombing in San Bernardino, California.

FBI officials have warned that so-called “end to end encryption,” where only the user and recipient can read messages, can protect criminals, terrorists and pornographers even when authorities have a legal warrant for an investigation.

Apple argued in a technical paper that the scanning technology developed by cryptographic experts “is secure, and is expressly designed to preserve user privacy.”

The company said it would have limited access to the violating images which would be flagged to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit organization.

Facebook, which has faced criticism that its encrypted messaging app facilitates crime, has been studying the use of artificial intelligence to analyse the content of messages without decrypting them.

The controversial protection tools announced by Apple last month had been accused by some of undermining people's privacy


The controversial protection tools announced by Apple last month had been accused by some of undermining people’s privacyCredit: AP
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