Apple may start scanning US-based iPhones for child abuse

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According to the Financial Times, Apple may be preparing to use a system called neuralMatch to scan US-based iPhones and iCloud accounts for child abuse content. According to the report on FT, Apple has already briefed security researchers on the neuralMatch software.

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The new software and system is supposedly smart enough to alert a human review team should it detect child abuse images or content. Once the review team looks at the flagged content, they can determine the action to be taken, such as alerting law enforcement.

This neuralMatch system was programmed and “trained” using the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database. The report says that Apple will scan only US-based iPhones to start with. It’s unclear how GDPR laws would affect the use of this software elsewhere.

Child abuse is a real problem worldwide, and human trafficking is also a real problem. In the past, Apple has generally stood its ground on privacy for its users; this new venture is sort of a step backward. K. Bell over at Engadget had some words we thought were intriguing:

Now, security researchers are raising similar concerns. Though there’s broad support for increasing efforts to fight child abuse, researchers who spoke to the FT said that it could open the door for authoritarian regimes to spy on their citizens, since a system designed to detect one type of imagery could be expanded to other types of content, like terrorism or other content perceived as “anti-government.”

At the same time, Apple and other companies have faced mounting pressure to find ways to cooperate with law enforcement. As the report points out, social media platforms and cloud storage providers like iCloud already have systems to detect child sexual abuse imagery, but extending such efforts to images on a device would be a significant shift for the company.


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