Apple photo tracking plan draws criticism

Apple 5g phones

Plans for a new Apple photo screening tool have been creating some amount of  controversy, both internally and beyond the company’s walls.

Ostensibly, the new feature that is slated for future iPhone models is supposed to identify photos of child sexual abuse by matching uploaded or acquired photos to a database.

Kate Duffy reports at Business Insider that the plan has generated over 800 messages on Apple’s Slack channel from employees with concerns about how this may affect user privacy.

External critics also have some thoughts on the matter:

“Apple is replacing its industry-standard end-to-end encrypted messaging system with an infrastructure for surveillance and censorship, which will be vulnerable to abuse and scope-creep not only in the US, but around the world,” Greg Nojeim, co-director of the Security & Surveillance Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a press statement according to reporting at CNN. “Apple should abandon these changes and restore its users’ faith in the security and integrity of their data on Apple devices and services.”

Will this new capability be a backdoor that the government can use to surveill private citizens even more than it already is?

Proponents of the system point out that because all photos are hashed, and the system works by matching a hash to a database hash, there’s little potential for the system to misidentify harmless photos. In other words, the system is taking those hashes from existing tagged violating photos, and applying them to whatever people upload to the cloud.

However, it is clear that this is going to change user privacy in several ways. News reports explaining the change suggest that the system will, for instance, also look for evidence of children sending explicit photos and provide a warning system for parents.

Controversies like these are at the heart of navigating the narrow line between safety and security on one hand, and user privacy on the other. Apple may be, as it says, following the examples of other big tech companies like Facebook and Google, but these companies have their own back and forth over surveillance and censoring practices.

Look for any fallout from new Apple policies in top tech stock activity.