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Apple’s controversial plan to try to curb child sexual abuse imagery

Why privacy experts are concerned

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When Apple announced changes it plans to make to iOS devices in an effort to help curb child abuse by finding child sexual abuse material (CSAM), parts of its plan generated backlash.

First, it’s rolling out an update to its Search app and Siri voice assistant on iOS 15, watchOS 8, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. When a user searches for topics related to child sexual abuse, Apple will redirect the user to resources for reporting CSAM, or getting help for an attraction to such content.

But it’s Apple’s two other CSAM plans that have garnered criticism. One update will add a parental control option to Messages, sending an alert to parents if a child age 12 or younger views or sends sexually explicit pictures, and obscuring the images for any users under 18.

The one that’s proven most controversial is Apple’s plan to scan on-device images to find CSAM before they images are uploaded to iCloud, reporting them to Apple’s moderators who can then turn the images over to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the case of a potential match. While Apple says the feature will protect users while allowing the company to find illegal content, many Apple critics and privacy advocates say the provision is basically a security backdoor, an apparent contradiction to Apple’s long-professed commitment to user privacy.

To stay up to speed on the latest news about Apple’s CSAM protection plans, follow our storystream, which we’ll update whenever there’s a new development. If you need a starting point, check out our explainer here.