Apple is delaying the launch of its controversial child safety features, postponing the system, which might scan iCloud Photos uploads and iMessage chats for signs of illegal sexual content or grooming. Announced last month, the system would use a third-party database of kid sexual assault Material (CSAM) to look for signs of illegal photos uploaded to the cloud but met with instant push-back from privacy advocates.
Lending to the confusion, Apple announced two systems at an equivalent time, though the functionality was in many places conflated. On the one hand, iMessage would use image recognition to flag potentially explicit pictures shared in conversations with young users. On the other hand, should such an image be shared, it might be automatically censored and, optionally for younger users, parents notified about the content.
At an equivalent time, the second system would be scanning for CSAM. Again, only images uploaded to Apple’s iCloud Photos service would be monitored, using picture fingerprints generated by expert agencies’ databases of such illegal content. If the variety of such images were spotted, Apple would report the user to the authorities.
Envisaging privacy and safety concerns, Apple had baked during several provisos. The scanning would happen on-device, instead of remotely, the corporate acknowledged, and therefore the fingerprints by which images would be compared would contain no actual illegal content themselves. Moreover, albeit uploads were flagged, there’d be a person’s review before any report was made.
Nonetheless, opponents to the plan were vocal. Apple’s system was a slippery slope, they warned. Therefore the Cupertino firm – despite its protestations otherwise – would undoubtedly face pressures from enforcement and governments to feature content to the list of media users’ accounts would be monitored for. Children could even be placed in danger, it had been acknowledged, and their privacy title compromised if Apple inadvertently outed them as LGBTQ to oldsters through its iMessage scanning system.
Even Apple execs conceded that the announcement hadn’t been handled with quite the deft touch that it probably required. Unofficial word from within the corporate had suggested the teams there have been stunned by the extent of the adverse reaction and the way long it persisted. Now, Apple has confirmed that it’ll not launch the new systems alongside iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey later this year.
“Last month we announced plans for features intended to assist protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of kid sexual assault Material,” Apple said during a statement today. “Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers et al. , we’ve decided to require overtime over the approaching months to gather input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”
To be clear, this isn’t a cancellation of the new CSAM systems altogether, only a delay. All an equivalent, it’s likely to be seen as a win for privacy advocates, who, while acknowledging the necessity to guard children against predatory behaviors, questioned whether widespread scanning was the most straightforward thanks to doing this.