Apple fights child abuse images
Apple fights child abuse images

Apple confirmed its plans to roll out new technologies in iOS, macOS, watchOS and iMessage to detect potential child abuse images and clarify key details about ongoing projects.

For US devices, the new versions of iOS and iPadOS, which were introduced in the fall, contain new encryption implementations to reduce the distribution of CSAM documents over the Internet.

The project is detailed on the new Child Safety page on the company's website. The most controversial app is the system that scans the device before saving photos to iCloud.

According to the description, the file will not be scanned until it is saved in iCloud and Apple will not receive any corresponding data unless the encrypted credentials of a particular account (via iCloud and photo upload) respect the correspondence restrictions.

The company has used a hashing system for years to search for child abuse images sent via email that match similar systems from Gmail and other cloud email providers.

The program applies the same scanning process to user photos stored in iCloud Photos, even if those photos are not sent to other users or otherwise shared.

In the PDF attached to the summary, the company justified its image-scanning procedures with several privacy limitations:

  •     Apple does not flag images that do not match the known CSAM database.
  •     The company cannot access the metadata or visual derivation of a CSAM image until the iCloud Photo Account's match limit has been exceeded.
  •     The risk of reporting system errors is very small. In addition, the company manually reviews all reports submitted to NCMEC to ensure the accuracy of the reports.
  •     The user cannot access or view the known CSAM image database.
  •     Users cannot select images that have been identified as CSAM by the system.

The new details added safeguards to prevent privacy risks for these systems.

The limit system ensures that a single error does not generate an alert. This allows the company to set the error rate to one false positive per trillion users per year.

Apple focuses on protecting children

The fragmentation system is also limited to documents tagged with NCMEC and photos uploaded through iCloud Photos.

Once an alert is created, the company and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will review it before issuing an alert to law enforcement agencies to further protect the system.

The company conducted a technical evaluation of the system with three independent crypto experts and found the system to be computationally robust.

Such a system is likely to increase the likelihood that people who own or share such photos will be found. It is meant to help protect children.

However, the company said that as the plan expands, child safety organizations beyond retail sources could be added. The company did not undertake to disclose the list of partners in the future.

This may raise concerns about the use of the system by the Chinese government. The company has made a long effort to improve data accessibility for local iPhone users.

Apart from the new actions in iCloud Photos. The company has added two more systems to protect young iPhone users who are at risk of abuse.

The Messages app performs cross-device checks of image attachments in children's accounts for possible pornographic content.

Once the content is detected, it will be hidden and a warning will appear. When the recognized images are viewed or sent, the new setting fires a message telling the child that the parent has received the message.

Apple is also updating the way Siri and the Search app respond to requests for child abuse images.

As part of the new system, the application makes it clear to the user that it is harmful and problematic to take care of this problem. It provides partner resources to address this issue.

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