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Apple clarifies its sex abuse scans would look for ‘images flagged in multiple countries’


Apple, which basked in ubiquitous praise after refusing to cooperate with federal authorities following the 2016 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, is now aggressively walking back its plans to unilaterally scan customers’ phones for child porn on behalf of governments following a swift and furious backlash from privacy advocates. Per a Friday afternoon report from Reuters, the tech company clarified that it will only utilize its proposed system to look for images that have already “been flagged by clearinghouses in multiple countries.”








Men are silhouetted against a video screen as they pose with Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia 820 and iPhone 4 smartphones (L-R) in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, May 17, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS)


© Dado Ruvic / Reuters
Men are silhouetted against a video screen as they pose with Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia 820 and iPhone 4 smartphones (L-R) in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, May 17, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS)

An initial threshold of 30 images(!) would have to be discovered before the automated scanning system alerted Apple that an actual human should review the issue, though the company explained that the figure would eventually be reduced in the future. Apple also made assurances that its list of image identifiers is universal and will remain constant regardless of the device it is being applied to, which should have Matt Gaetz extremely worried.

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As Apple explained during Friday’s media call, the company’s technical protection is one that creates an encrypted on-device CSAM hash database derived from at least two or more organizations, each operating under the auspices of separate national governments. 

The company, during one of many media-assuaging follow-up meetings this week, declined to comment on whether the negative blowback has had any effect on its position, though it did admit that there was “confusion” surrounding its earlier announcements. Apple did assert that the program was “still in development” and that mulligans like this were a normal part of the production process. 

The practice of scanning user accounts for contraband images is old hat for the tech industry, however Apple’s scheme to install the monitoring scheme directly on the device hardware itself is an unprecedented move — one that has privacy advocates up in arms. Basically what’s to stop governments from demanding that Apple scour its users’ devices for other private, political, religious or personal information once this disingenuous “think of the children” precedent is put into effect?

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