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Apple Delays CSAM Detection Launch

In a statement released to various media organizations, Apple said it would be delaying the launch of its CSAM detection features, previously slated for inclusion in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey:

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.

We covered the initial announcement in “FAQ about Apple’s Expanded Protections for Children” (7 August 2021) and Apple’s subsequent mea culpa and explanations in “New CSAM Detection Details Emerge Following Craig Federighi Interview” (13 August 2021).

As I noted in the second article, Apple thoroughly botched the initial announcement and follow-up, so it’s unsurprising to see the company delay in order to collect input and improve the technology. The question is why it took so long for Apple to do so—the company has plenty of experience with removing technologies from forthcoming upgrades, as with the recent delay for SharePlay.

My guess is that Apple plans to refine both the technology and its messaging over the next few months and reintroduce it sometime next year. I would hope that announcement comes with a much better story about how effective the technology will be in reducing the spread of CSAM, preventing revictimization, and resisting government-level subversion. That may help the media do a better job of analyzing and reporting the second time around—even if Apple bungled the initial announcement, much of the overheated media coverage was based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings about how Apple said the technology would work.

The other possibility is that the entire effort is now tainted, making this “delay” just a face-saving way for Apple to drop the technology like the hot potato it became. Would there be a massive public outcry if 2022’s Worldwide Developer Conference came and went with no mention of CSAM detection in iOS 16?

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Comments About Apple Delays CSAM Detection Launch

Notable Replies

  1. It is good news and I am hoping that Apple will not go down the path that it was proposing. Not matter how Apple phrased it, I think the value to Apple customers in having their phones locked down is very important. As a non-American, I did not want US language and legal norms being imposed via such a scheme.

  2. Their current proposed usage seems benign enough. But given Apple’s apparent willingness to bend their ethics to maintain a business relationship with authoritarian countries, the possibility of a tool capable of scanning users’ content that could be adapted for more malign purposes, such as by such governments looking for adverse political speech, doesn’t leave me sanguine.

  3. That may help the media do a better job of analyzing and reporting the second time around—even if Apple bungled the initial announcement, much of the overheated media coverage was based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings about how Apple said the technology would work.

    The EFF has not misunderstood or been inaccurate, to my knowledge. Nor has security expert Bruce Schneier. Nor have most of the other security experts, almost all of whom oppose this vehemently. Perhaps it would be better if you acknowledged that there is legitimate criticism, rather than grouping it all together as “overheated media coverage.”

  4. The other possibility is that the entire effort is now tainted, making this “delay” just a face-saving way for Apple to drop the technology

    Boy do I hope so.

  5. Hello - and thank you for TidBITS, I’m a long term reader and enjoy it a lot.
    I think your trust in Apple and its technology is wrong in this case Adam. Maybe there have been misunderstandings among the many and rightly harsh reactions. But one thing shines 100% through, and that is that opening up for that kind of technology and the possibilities it implies is opening up for all kinds of wrong use. Snowden has rightly pointed that out very clearly.
    On top comes that the whole thing is so much more absurd as Apple’s announcement came only weeks after the huge NSO scandal that more than anything else showed us all how truly evil forces are more than ready and willing to use any technology flaw to work against freedom and the interest of ordinary people.
    If anything, Apple should have been working like crazy to repair those vulnerabilities and talk loudly about it and shout out against NSO. Instead Apple was silent apart from a few lame announcements. It’s completely and totally absurd that instead of taking a stance against NSO, Apple announces yet another weakness for NSO and the like to explore.
    To continue to show trust in such a company is close to being a little stupid in my opinion.
    — Nikolaj

  6. After the Facebook AI primate screwup is there any doubt that this idea belongs in the shredder. Spying on its users, is not in Apple‘s business model. Leave that to governments.

  7. I wasn’t trying to cover the entire situation again—just to point out that a lot of what was written was problematic. There’s plenty of room outside “much of the overheated media coverage was based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings” for media coverage that wasn’t overheated, or media coverage that was overheated but wasn’t based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings.

    I do think there are legitimate criticisms here, but I find most of them troublingly speculative. As we spiral down the “What if?” path, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine the likelihood of any such speculation coming true, or even the likelihood that today’s reality is what we think it is.

    Regardless, all criticisms of what Apple proposed before are now historical until the company says more, if it says more.

  8. Makes two of us. This wasn’t just a PR issue, Apple didn’t just bungle the introduction. They did something inherently wrong. You fix that not by tweaking your messaging. You fix it by fixing it. In this case that means I hope this code never makes it into any iOS, dev or shipping.

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