Yesterday Apple unveiled a new technology that will roll out in iOS and iPadOS 15 for US customers. Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) is a pervasive and prevalent problem that the tech giant is seeking to combat. Unfortunately for Apple, the reaction to the new technology has been incredibly polarised.

In the simplest sense, the technology works by scanning a users photo library on-device to preserve privacy. If the system, detects images that match against a database of known CSAM images hashes, the users account is flagged for manual review. The offending images are then either discounted as a false positive or if found to be a true positive, referred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCME). Users can opt-out of the feature by turning off iCloud photo library.

Apple says that the accuracy of the system and the potential for false flags is extraordinary low, around 1 in a trillion. Regardless of the noble intention, this has created cause for concern by various privacy advocates, not least the notorious whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

“No matter how well-intentioned, Apple is rolling out mass surveillance to the entire world with this,” said Snowden. “if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow.

Edward Snowden

By contrast, the NCMEC has applauded Apple’s efforts and urged them to ignore the noise.

“Apple’s expanded protection for children is a game changer. With so many people using Apple products, these new safety measures have lifesaving potential for children who are being enticed online and whose horrific images are being circulated in child sexual abuse material”


The issue is complex and there are important arguments on both sides of the debate. If used correctly this system has the potential to protect children and brink predators to justice. Apple has a good track record on user privacy and it does sound like the system and the manual review process has been well thought out. It remains to be seen how Apple responds to privacy advocates.

This story will likely develop in the coming days. Either way it’s sure to be a hot topic for years to come.


Featured Image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

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