Apple’s plan to scan iPhone images raises privacy concerns

On Balance with Leland Vittert

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Apple intends to install software on iPhones sold in the United States to scan for child abuse imagery, raising alarm that the move could open the door to surveillance of millions of personal devices.

Liberty Vittert, a professor of data science at Washington University in St. Louis and the features editor of the Harvard Data Science Review, says this is “a cosmic shift in big tech monitoring.”

“First, it started off with monitoring what we say publicly or what we put up publicly,” Vittert said.  “And now it’s changing to monitoring what is our most personal and most private information that we are not making public in any capacity.”

Vittert’s research centers around facial shape analysis and recognition software, the exact type of algorithm that Apple will use for their new technology. 

“We have seen that image recognition is not there yet, with the police and facial recognition software, and the terrible consequences that have come with that,” Vittert said. “We know it’s not there.”

The tool Apple calls “neuralMatch” will detect known images of child sexual abuse without decrypting people’s messages. If it finds a match, the image will be reviewed by a human. If child pornography is confirmed, the user’s account will be disabled and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notified.

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“It then opens up your private family moments, your private thoughts, your private pictures that you want to take to some team of supposed human experts to look through and really invade our private lives,” Vittert said.

Apple has been under government pressure for years to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data. Coming up with the new security measures required Apple to perform a delicate balancing act between cracking down on the exploitation of children while keeping its high-profile commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.

Some are skeptical Apple will be able to thread that needle.

“It really is bringing us into this very possible future of an Orwellian society,” Vittert said. “It is what we are told to be scared of, and we should be scared of it. This is where the possibility of the declaration ending of the possibility of no longer having a democracy in the United States, if we allow this slippery slope argument to continue.”

Liberty Vittert is Leland Vittert’s sister.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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