Tech experts pen open letter to Apple to halt the new child safety plan

(Image credit: Apple)

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Apple perhaps thought its idea of Child Safety photo scanning was suffused with right ideas. But it is now being seen as the path to privacy damnation.

Apple recently announced new features on its platforms to protect children online. And the company is now facing opposition to that. WhatsApp chief has called it a "surveillance system". Further, an open letter, with signatories like Edward Snowden, has now surfaced and it wants the Cupertino-headquartered company to halt the rollout of the new features.

At the moment of writing, the open letter signed by several tech experts has more than 5500 signatories. 

"Apple's proposal introduces a backdoor that threatens to undermine fundamental privacy protections for all users of Apple products," the letter states unambiguously.

Not just about privacy, there's lack of accountability too

The letter goes on to add that the type of technology that Apple is proposing for its child protection measures depends on an expandable infrastructure that can't be monitored or technically limited. 

It also said it isn't just about privacy, "but also the lack of accountability, technical barriers to expansion, and lack of analysis or even acknowledgement of the potential for errors and false positives."

Apple's proposed technology works by continuously monitoring photos saved or shared on the user's iPhone, iPad, or Mac. One system detects if a certain number of objectionable photos is detected in iCloud storage and alerts the authorities. Another notifies a child's parents if iMessage is used to send or receive photos that a machine learning algorithm considers to contain nudity.

The letter said: "Because both checks are performed on the user's device, they have the potential to bypass any end-to-end encryption that would otherwise safeguard the user's privacy."

Another argument being put forth is that the tech, while well-meaning, can be used to serve more nefarious means of surveillance a  point that WhatsApp's Will Cathcart also made on his twitter thread.

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The open letter quotes several industry experts and analysts on how the whole move from Apple has fundamental design flaws. 

Stating that Apple's current path threatens to undermine decades of work by technologists, academics and policy advocates towards strong privacy-preserving measures, the open letter sought two things: One, Apple must halt the deployment of the content monitoring technology. Two, Apple must issue a statement reaffirming their commitment to end-to-end encryption and to user privacy.

For the record, Apple has said the new safety features are not a backdoor to its hardware and software privacy features.

Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.