Apple recently announced built-in detection methods into iPhones and iCloud to quell the spread of child sexual abuse imagery. This decision has brought the ire of many Apple fans and critics, including Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney.
While Apple's new photo-scanning tech has been revealed with the promise of good intentions, many believe those good intentions to be a disguise. In fact, the iCloud and iMessage tools are being criticised as “government spyware”.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney on Apple CSAM tools
On Saturday, Sweeney took to Twitter to explain his thoughts on Apple's upcoming tools. The detection software, which scans everything uploaded to iCloud to compare against known CSAM content, was heavily criticised. He opened:
“I've tried hard to see this from Apple's point of view. But inescapably, this is government spyware installed by Apple based on a presumption of guilt. Though Apple wrote the code, its function is to scan personal data and report it to government.”
Sweeney explains that the tools are completely different to tools used by websites of social media. As forums and social media holders are essentially publishers, they have a right to scan the data that's hosted. The Epic Games CEO argues that the situation is more invasive on a user's device. He argues that this is especially true as Apple constantly tries to five uses to use iCloud.
“This is entirely different from a content moderation system on a public forum or social medium. Before the operator choses to host the data publicly, they can scan it for whatever they don't want to host. But this is peoples' private data. Apple's dark patterns that turn iCloud uploads on by default, and flip it back on when moving to a new phone or switching accounts, exacerbate the problem. Further, in many contexts Apple has forced people to accumulate unwanted data, as with mandatory iCloud email accounts.”
A slippery slope
Many have pointed out that Apple's move to constantly scan user data for this content comes after government interference. Apple has previously claimed that their customers will be granted the upmost privacy. However, no matter how good the intentions – or perceived intentions – behind this tech may be, it does go against the company's previous claims.
The Epic Games CEO argues that this first bend to government will is a slippery slope for the company. If Apple starts here, what's to stop them from giving into the demands of the Chinese government, which would request access to all user data.
"Tim Cook testified at trial, without nuance, that Apple has to comply with all applicable laws everywhere it does business. So presumably Apple will now be an arm of state surveillance wherever it's required. That's already played out in China."
"Calls for "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from this surveillance" and "think of the children" will reach a fever pitch, seeking to manipulate public sentiment at this critical time, gaining support for a system presuming guilt and lacking due process."
"Liberty is built on due process and limited government. The existential threat here is an unholy alliance between government the monopolies who control online discourse and everyone's devices, using the guise of private corporations to circumvent constitutional protections.”
Sweeney does raise a good point. Those who are genuinely afraid of Apple’s increasing hold on their data will have to fight against Apple's push that those people have something to hide. In the days since the company announced the additions, an overwhelming majority have come out against the tech. Whatever the case, Apple does have the upper hand in this situation.