Apple will start scanning user iCloud Photo Libraries for child sexual abuse material
Apple has announced that it is implementing neural network-powered scanning technology to detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) throughout its operating systems.
Developed "in collaboration with child safety experts," the new countermeasures are aimed explicitly to detect and report existing CSAM to law enforcement. Additionally, filters to block sexually explicit material sent and received through child users' Apple ID services like iMessage as well as reporting tools for both parents and children will be implemented. CSAM-related terms queried through Siri and iOS and macOS-integrated search features will be intercepted as well.
Though Apple states that potentially infringing content will stay exclusively device-based and analyzed client-side until an undefined threshold of detected CSAM is met, privacy advocates have publicly stated their concern over the precedent this sets. As Apple has long fought against government backdoor access to its users' data, building in a backdoor, even if for a noble and ethical purpose, is still a backdoor that previously did not exist. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation states:
"it’s impossible to build a client-side scanning system that can only be used for sexually explicit images sent or received by children. As a consequence, even a well-intentioned effort to build such a system will break key promises of the messenger’s encryption itself and open the door to broader abuses."
The new scanning feature will be mandatory for all Apple operating system users as of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey (version 12.0). Users who do not update their supported Apple hardware to these versions will not have these checks. The only release information currently disclosed is that these updates will roll out "later this year."
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