Privacy vs Child Safety: Understanding Apple's New Update

Published on 08 Aug 2021

Apple has released a new FAQ document to address privacy concerns regarding new features that will be released with the iOS 15 and iPad OS 15 that are expected to come out in September of this year. 

Since Apple announced these features a week ago, there has been a lot of conversation online. In their statement announcing the release of the FAQ document, Apple said that it had received a lot of support from Privacy and Child Safety organizations. Some of these organizations had contacted Apple with questions. This document is meant to answer and allay those questions.

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What updates is Apple planning to release?

Apple is planning to release two features:

1. CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) detection in iCloud photos

The possession of CSAM images is illegal in most countries of the world including the United States. The new feature will scan and check images users have chosen to store on iCloud against a set of CSAM image hashes provided by NCMEC and other child safety organizations. There is no automated reporting if the feature identifies CSAM. Instead, a human Apple representative will conduct a review to confirm that feature's findings. In m countries simply owning CSAM is illegal and Apple says it is obligated to report any instances it learns of to the authorities.

2. Communication safety for messages

This feature will only work on Child accounts that have been set up in Family Sharing. The feature will give parents more control. It will scan photos sent from the messages app on such accounts and check for sexually explicit images. Apple clarified that this feature will only work on images sent or received in the Messages app. If the feature identifies an explicit image, the photo will be blurred. The child will be shown a warning and helpful resources. They will be reassured   

What are people's concerns?

After Apple announced the new feature there was a lot of criticism about Apple's decision with regards to privacy. The main concern is that the features could be used in the future to scan user's data for other types of content. Government entities could force Apple to act in ways it may not want to. Some of the discussions caused confusion between the two features, in its FAQ document, Apple has gone to great lengths to distinguish between the two features and provide a clear understanding of their scope.

CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney had harsh criticism for Apple's new features saying that even though he 'tried hard' to see the decision from apple's point of view, "inescapably, this is government spyware installed by Apple based on a presumption of guilt." 

Edward Snowden, a famous whistleblower, and former NSA employee said, "No matter how well-intentioned, Apple is rolling out mass surveillance to the entire world with this,if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow."

The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation said, "even a thoroughly documented, carefully thought-out, and narrowly-scoped backdoor is still a backdoor."

The new features are not expected to roll out until September and this is still a developing story. For now, Apple seems to be firmly behind its decision and plans to proceed with the new update. Subscribe to to stay up to date with new developments.

Featured image: People photo created by Racool_studio -