EFF urges Apple to completely abandon delayed child safety features

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Apple urged to abandon child safety features
'Delays aren't good enough.'
Photo: Wiyre Media CC

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has called on Apple to completely abandon its child safety features after their rollout was delayed.

The group says it is “pleased” Apple’s move is on hold for now. But it calls the plans, which include scanning user images for child abuse material (CSAM), “a decrease in privacy for all iCloud Photos users.”

The EFF’s petition against Apple’s original announcement now contains more than 25,000 signatures. Another, started by groups like Fight for the Future and OpenMedia, contains more than 50,000.

While it goes without saying that CSAM is entirely unacceptable, you’ll be hard pressed to find many Apple fans who agree with the company’s plan to scan photos for child abuse material. Most see it as a major privacy breach.

Some experts have warned that the feature could be expanded to scan for other material later if Apple bows to the inevitable pressure it will face from governments. Others say the move could put vulnerable children at risk.

Apple has been listening to that feedback. It announced last week that its plans have been postponed while it takes time to “collect input and make improvements.” But the EFF believes that’s not enough.

Apple ‘must go further than just listening’

“EFF is pleased Apple is now listening to the concerns of customers, researchers, civil liberties organizations, human rights activists, LGBTQ people, youth representatives, and other groups, about the dangers posed by its phone scanning tools,” reads the group’s latest post.

“But the company must go further than just listening, and drop its plans to put a backdoor into its encryption entirely. The features Apple announced a month ago, intending to help protect children, would create an infrastructure that is all too easy to redirect to greater surveillance and censorship.”

The EFF also warned that the features “would create an enormous danger to iPhone users’ privacy and security, offering authoritarian governments a new mass surveillance system to spy on citizens.” It also pointed out the overwhelming backlash that has followed Apple’s announcement.

The response has been ‘damning’

“The responses to Apple’s plans have been damning,” it said. It highlighted the open letter from more than 90 organizations to Tim Cook, calling for the plans to be scrapped, and its own petition, titled “Tell Apple: Don’t Scan Our Phones,” which now features more than 25,000 signatures.

“This is in addition to other petitions by groups such as Fight for the Future and OpenMedia, totalling well over 50,000 signatures,” the EFF said, before warning Apple that users “will continue to demand” that the company maintains its promise to keep their data protected.

Apple has not commented on the CSAM plans publicly since it announced on Friday that they would be postponed. It’s unlikely we will hear more for some time. But, as things stand, it seems Apple is determined to make the features — which it described as “critically important” — available in the future.