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Apple has backflipped on its controversial CSAM system, will delay its rollout following privacy criticisms

Apple advertises the iPhone is private, but privacy advocates have piled on Apple's proposed CSAM system. (Image: Engadget)
Apple advertises the iPhone is private, but privacy advocates have piled on Apple's proposed CSAM system. (Image: Engadget)
Apple has backflipped on its controversial CSAM initiative for its iCloud Photos service. The company says it is planning to take additional time to make unspecified improvements to its system before deploying it in the coming months.

It’s not often that Apple faces backlash, even from fans of the company, but it did so recently when it announced a controversial system for scanning for child sexual abuse material (CSAM). While no one has been questioning the importance of the initiative, concerns were raised by a number of academics, experts in privacy and other advocacy groups about the potential to use Apple’s system by governments and law enforcement agencies to spy more widely on people.

Apple issued a statement to 9to5Mac explaining its reversal:

Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material. Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.

While many other companies scan for CSAM content, Apple’s approach differed fundamentally in that its system wasn’t going to just scan iCloud Photos in the cloud, but also on a user’s Apple device before they were uploaded. While Apple’s system was undoubtedly robust, privacy advocates were concerned it created a backdoor that could potentially be abused by governments and law enforcement agencies. Advocacy groups were also concerned about Apple’s separate, but related, initiative to scan iMessages for CSAM content as well.

With the upcoming launch of iPhone 13/12S and iOS 15, Apple clearly didn’t want this controversy casting a shadow over the event, and it is clear that it will need to go back to the drawing board which means its CSAM system won’t be ready to go live with the launch of iOS 15 anyway. It will be interesting to see what Apple does to change its system in response to the feedback it has received. What is clear, however, is Apple should have engaged more closely with privacy experts and advocacy groups before it launched its CSAM system. Not only has it resulted in an embarrassing and botched launch, but it has delayed the rollout of a very important tool necessary to stop the spread of CSAM.

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Sanjiv Sathiah
Sanjiv Sathiah - Senior Tech Writer - 1360 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2017
I have been writing about consumer technology over the past ten years, previously with the former MacNN and Electronista, and now Notebookcheck since 2017. My first computer was an Apple ][c and this sparked a passion for Apple, but also technology in general. In the past decade, I’ve become increasingly platform agnostic and love to get my hands on and explore as much technology as I can get my hand on. Whether it is Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Nintendo, Xbox, or PlayStation, each has plenty to offer and has given me great joy exploring them all. I was drawn to writing about tech because I love learning about the latest devices and also sharing whatever insights my experience can bring to the site and its readership.
contact me via: @t3mporarybl1p
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2021 09 > Apple has backflipped on its controversial CSAM system, will delay its rollout following privacy criticisms
Sanjiv Sathiah, 2021-09- 4 (Update: 2021-09- 4)