Home / Technology / News /  WhatsApp CEO, EFF, others say Apple’s child safety protocols break privacy

New Delhi: Privacy advocates, executives, and experts have raised privacy concerns about Apple’s new child-safety measures for its devices.

The company had announced it will use built-in software to scan images users store on their devices, and on Apple’s messaging and cloud platforms, to flag content that shows child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Experts, however, say that the system amounts to creating backdoors in Apple’s software which can be exploited by cybercriminals in the long run.

“To say that we are disappointed by Apple’s plans is an understatement. Apple has historically been a champion of end-to-end encryption, for all of the same reasons that EFF has articulated time and time again," said digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a blog post. “Apple’s compromise on end-to-end encryption may appease government agencies in the U.S. and abroad, but it is a shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company’s leadership in privacy and security," it added.

Messaging giant WhatsApp’s chief executive, Will Cathcart has also opposed Apple’s move. In a series of tweets, Cathcart said WhatsApp won’t be using systems like Apple’s, though the company does intend to tackle CSAM content itself too. “Instead of focusing on making it easy for people to report content that's shared with them, Apple has built software that can scan all the private photos on your phone -- even photos you haven't shared with anyone. That's not privacy," Cathcart said in a tweet.

Cathcart also said the system Apple has built could “very easily" allow the company to “scan private content for anything they or a government decides it wants to control". He pointed out that different countries will have different definitions of what’s acceptable, suggesting that the system could be used to enhance surveillance on users and break privacy norms.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which has been fighting Apple on the company’s recent App Transparency protocols that were added to its platforms. Those systems stop apps like Facebook from tracking user activity outside of their apps, and was almost universally appreciated as a privacy-friendly feature. Facebook, though, bought print ads against this system and has alleged that the update will kill small businesses.

In its recent quarterly financial report though, Facebook’s competitor Twitter noted that the App Transparency update didn’t impact the company’s advertising revenues as expected.

Next, whistleblower Edward Snowden also criticized Apple for the change. Snowden retweeted a Financial Times article about the update, quoting an excerpt that criticized it. Apple later circulated an internal memo, telling its employees that the company does expect pushback against the update. “We know that the days to come will be filled with the screeching voices of the minority," the memo said.

Snowden called this memo “unbelievable" in a tweet. “Apple now circulating a propaganda letter describing the internet-wide opposition to their decision to start checking the private files on every iPhone against a secret government blacklist as ‘the screeching voices of the minority’. This has become a scandal," he said.

While Apple said that the update will be met by pushback from the “minority", it has been criticized by experts from various sectors. This includes academics from colleges like Harvard, politicians and more. Snowden also signed an open letter asking Apple to withdraw the update. The letter has been signed by 3000 individuals.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, which has been feuding with Apple for its App Store fees, said, “It’s atrocious how Apple vacuums up everybody’s data into iCloud by default, hides the 15+ separate options to turn parts of it off in Settings underneath your name, and forces you to have an unwanted email account. Apple would NEVER allow a third party to ship an app like this."

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