Apple security scan concerns

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Apple security scan concerns

The tech conglomerate Apple has recently put measures into place to scan their users phones for ill-usage material, these new measures were introduced in iMessage, iCloud, Siri, and search, all of which the corporation says are designed to forestall the abuse of children. Any matches reported by the system are going to be reviewed by individuals and then steps are going to be taken to disable the users account and report them to the police. However, many critics warn that this technology could be used to search private content for anything they or the government decides they want control over. Apple has tried to assuage such concerns by stating that it refuses to use government mandated software to scan users' devices for private content. Other cloud storage providers, like Microsoft, already perform routine detection on images uploaded to their servers but by adding this type of surveillance Apple has weakened its historically strong stance on privacy thanks to pressure from law enforcement. 

Commendable or Concerning? 

Whilst this new system is a commendable step to take in the efforts of protecting children and finding abusers, many people are worried that Apple could be using this new system as a backdoor to spy on their customers. This is because the new approach will be scanning photos on the users’ hardware before they are uploaded to the company’s servers. This program has caused growing concern among critics who believe that systems that take action that the owner of a device doesn’t consent to could be used to cause them harm, be it common security vulnerabilities or even possibly using the system to hack peoples phones. 

What is unusual about the implementation of these new measures is that material will only be scanned as it is about to be uploaded to Apple’s cloud library. If they were to simply wait until files were uploaded then it would mean that they could scan photos without crossing invasive lines but in this case they have taken unprecedented action. There has been pressure from privacy advocates for Apple to implement end-to-end encryption of its iCloud storage as a way to ensure security; however Apple has resisted due to push back from agencies such as the FBI, for whom encryption would deprive them of a valuable investigative tool.  

Is my Privacy at Risk? 

Apple has been quick to reassure the masses that the new feature will only work on phones that have a child account set up in Family Sharing, it is set up to detect when indecent imagery is about to be sent to or from a child’s phone. All of this happens on the phone and when a child's account sends or receives explicit images, the photo will be blurred and the child will be warned, presented with helpful resources and reassured that it’s okay if they do not want to view or send the photo. As an additional precaution, to make sure they are safe; their parents will get a message if they do view any indecent images. 

If you do not want your photos to be scanned there is an easy way to prevent it from happening. The scanning happens on iCloud so the solution is to turn off cloud storage on your photos. Although this significantly reduces storage space for images on your device. 

What to do if you are Worried 

Though Apple is a reputable and well known manufacturer, who have promised customers privacy and not to give into demands to use their devices for ulterior motives, many people will still be concerned if they don’t understand the technical aspects of the new system or are just suspicious and can’t be reassured.  

There are a few different options for people in this scenario. The first and most obvious might be to simply change mobile devices. There are plenty of other manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei that people may find better suited or more trusting of. Second, if you don’t want to go to the trouble of finding a new phone or are simply unsure about your security, look into more in depth security software. Most mobile devices have some form of built in detection system however if it were the manufacturer invading your security, it is unlikely that their own security system would alert you. It is always advisable to have a reputable cyber security application for your devices anyway and you can set up an account for multiple devices with a lot of security apps. 

This being said it is down to the user of a device to make informed decisions about what phone they use, how they use it and whether it is properly secured. You can only rely on the word of the manufacturer and hope that they keep their word about privacy and protection policies.

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