Monday, Sep 06, 2021, 19:00 Software

Electronic Frontier Foundation Requires Apple Halt Photo Scanning & Uphold Data Protection Promises

As a result of the overwhelmingly negative press coverage and criticism from numerous sides, Apple decided against going through with its plans to locally scan users' devices for CSAM (child sexual abuse material) in hopes of combatting the spread of child pornography. The plan was to only scan content that was going to be uploaded to iCloud, and to initiate the scan locally on users' devices for known CSAM (to avoid scanning on a server, which raises its own privacy concerns), however, there was backlash due to the nature of the scan being local and concern about how much power users would actually be giving up in the process. In addition, Apple didn't do an excellent job of communicating the program to the public, and the takeaway that most users had was: "Apple is going to scan all of my photos!"

Apple No Longer In Control Of The Discussion
Although Cupertino quickly responded to concerns about the program, reiterating that the scan would not actually reveal any photo or video content, but simply compare digital signatures to that of known CSAM – it was already too late and the public's imagination had run wild. There was also concern that Apple might even be opening the door for despotic countries and totalitarian regimes to take advantage of or exploit the OS' new upcoming feature as with the recent iMessage Pegasus fiasco. However, of all concerns raised, this one is the most valid, as the secure iPhone fortress could be essentially turned into a backdoor system for less than benevolent 3rd parties.

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EFF Praises Moratorium – But Is Not Without Criticism
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued a statement concerning Apple's recent announcement to delay plans and praised the company for its change of position. However, according to the foundation, a simple "delay for the time being" is not enough and Apple now needs to do more than just listen. The EFF wants Apple to completely abandon the idea and refrain from integrating any weak points in the system's encryption. According to the EFF, Apple needs to do more than simply promise or state that it stands for privacy and data protection – the company needs to prove it as well.

Apple Takes A Hit To Its Reputation
It's not yet known whether or not Apple will satisfy the EFF's demands. However, given the recent mood, Apple's reputation as a defender of privacy and data has taken a big hit – and a complete 180 doesn't seem unlikely. It's rather surprising that Apple's team didn't foresee such a reaction while conceiving the program in question, as the company is usually quite sensitive when it comes to potential reception. It's even more so surprising given the fact that Apple should be well aware of the fact that the average user doesn't know that a local data scan is much safer in terms of the two aforementioned aspects than a serverside scan.

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