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Apple defends plans to implement explicit photo scanning technology

Apple recently announced a tool that identifies illegal images uploaded to the company's cloud storage service. Unlike other cloud providers, Apple doesn't scan everything in a users's online account, but has developed this technology to identify images on the iPhone that matches a database of known illegal images. Such data files are in violation of federal law and the license-agreement that all iCloud users accept when they sign up for the service. According to an Aug. 19 Wall Street Journal story, if enough images are identified, Apple will review them before a decision is made to report the images to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

As expected, the announcement ruffled feathers amongst the flocks of online privacy advocates. Concerns have been raised about Apple scanning all iPhone data, and there have been claims of Big Brother over-reach. Such concerns are warranted. The same technology could be used to scan for other information in known formats. This technology in the context of a totalitarian state such as China or North Korea presents frightening possibilities. It's just a matter of time before governments can develop this technology. Even more frightening is the possible (probable?) misuse of such technology in a democratic society. To its credit, Apple - so far - has resisted government efforts to weaken their data encryption or to provide a back door.

On the other hand, most reasonable people will agree that child pornography is a bad thing, and that any effort to stop it is a good thing. Apple, a company which has championed customer privacy, defends the scanning and data identification method. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, spoke with Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern in an interview to answer some pointed questions and explain the technology and what steps have been taken to protect user privacy while keeping illegal content off company servers. Check out the interview on Youtube:

Editors note: Sept. 3, 2021 WSJ reported that Apple will delay the iPhone update that would enable this capability. he company says it will take more time to collect input and make improvements before releasing the "feature."

Photo by AltumCode on Unsplash

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