More than 90 human and civil rights organizations from various countries have asked Apple in an open letter to refrain from introducing the announced child protection functions in iOS and iPadOS 15 as well as macOS 12. The incorporation of “surveillance skills” brings new risks for children and could lead to censorship, according to the letter, which was signed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), among others.
Foundation for surveillance and censorship
The announced features “threaten the privacy and security of people around the world”, it goes on in the letter. As soon as hash-based scanning for images of abuse is built into Apple devices, the manufacturer will come under “enormous pressure and possibly also legal requirements from governments around the world” to recognize other unpleasant image content. Apple’s role “lays the foundations for censorship, surveillance and prosecution on a global scale”.
The independent local scanning for naked content by Apple’s messenger “Messages” – together with the possible notification of parents – threatens the safety of LGBTQ + children, for example. Algorithms for recognizing nude content are “notoriously unreliable” and could erroneously work on arts, health information and educational resources – and thus curtail children’s rights.
Apple’s software boss Craig Federighi had admitted last week that the algorithm can make mistakes. If this “back door” for the crypto messenger iMessage was first installed, governments could force Apple to recognize other image content and to notify accounts other than just the parents, the civil rights activists claim.
Apple referenced in response opposite the news agency Reuters only to the documentation of the complex functions previously published by the group.
Apple asked to stop
Apple must give up the planned scan systems and re-commit to protecting its customers through end-to-end encryption, the alliance is calling for. For an impact assessment of product changes, the manufacturer should also seek more regular discussions with civil rights organizations in the future.