Apple’s child protection measures raise serious privacy issues


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Has Apple just taken an important step in limiting the spread of child pornography, while also adding extra protection to children using its devices? Or does it open the door to surveillance on the iPhone?

There was news last week that the consumer technology giant would join New layer of protection Out of child safety considerations, it has caused some predictable reactions to its American equipment.Political leader welcome A more interventionist position, and privacy advocates warn that Apple has set a precedent that can be used to regulate other forms of online content.

Therefore, it was accompanied by technological wars, which often helped shape the perception of the most popular gadgets and digital services of that era. In fact, few people would question the desirability of establishing more protective measures in some of today’s mass market technologies. The question is how to best do this with minimal impact on users’ privacy and freedom — and whether the government or powerful technology companies should issue the orders.

So far, Apple has been taking the risk of protecting users of its iMessage system from harmful content. Unlike Facebook, it does not have a large number of moderators to help limit the worst material, and there is no mechanism for users to file complaints. Some action seems to be late.

But how do you do your best without sacrificing important principles? In recent years, Apple has rejected the US government’s request to help break into the iPhone of suspected terrorists, and loudly condemned the idea of ​​creating “backdoors” in its gadgets, which would make them inherently less secure. Like other technology companies, it has always been a firm supporter of “end-to-end encryption”-from creation to consumption, digital communication should be a principle that cannot be spied on.

The actions last week showed that both concepts have a certain degree of plasticity. A new Apple policy involves matching images on every US iPhone backed up to iCloud with official child pornography databases. If a certain number of matches are found, Apple will disable the user’s account and notify the agency dealing with child exploitation.

This is very close to installing a backdoor for the iPhone. The new tool Apple has built can easily be applied to other images that a particular government ruled illegal, although Apple insists it will resist any government pressure to do so.

Another move will affect message delivery. Parents will be able to activate a feature that can monitor the child’s information to find photos containing nudity. Violation images will be automatically blurred, and parents can also request notification if the child is under 13 years old.

This seems to provide a lie to end-to-end encryption in messaging. If a technology company can check the user’s situation before or after the message is encrypted, then this raises the question of what other aspects may enter the private messaging realm in the future.

So does this mean that Apple’s latest move, no matter how well-meaning, marks a step backwards? unnecessary.

The actual impact of such changes depends on how they are implemented. They don’t happen in a vacuum: they usually prompt changes in user behavior, which may mitigate some of the more negative effects. By taking action first, Apple may reduce the possibility that the government will subsequently force it to take tougher measures.

It is also important to put such changes in a broader context. If Apple continues to add new privacy protections for users, even if some of its policies have the opposite effect, the overall result may still be positive.

However, there are still many shortcomings in Apple’s policy change. By treating these changes as fait accompli, it shortens the debate about their potential impact. If its methods are now a role model for other technology companies, the competitive idea that others have been working hard to protect children may never emerge.

Acting alone also runs the risk of inciting commercial competition. Last week, when Apple’s move drew criticism from Facebook’s instant messaging app WhatsApp, it was not surprising. WhatsApp was caught in a heated debate over new restrictions on the collection of personal data by iPhone users.

A united front from the technology industry to combat child pornography and protect online children could have instilled greater confidence. For better or worse, Apple has struggled alone—its users of gadgets around the world now have to hope that privacy doomsdayists get it wrong.

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