Apple has always been the ‘white sheep’ of the corporate world when it comes to privacy. They actually build in privacy as a differentiator, woven into the DNA of their products. However, it’s not easy being a privacy body with all the conflicts out there.
There is for example the conflict of ‘freedom of speech’ vs. ‘privacy’, both are essential for a proper functioning democratic society, but they conflict with each other. The quote that I love from David Brinn’s book ‘Transparent Society’ is that ‘we want privacy for ourself’ but ‘we want transparency for others’. How the hell do we solve this one?
Then if we move back to the reason for this Post, it is the conflict of ‘protection of our kids’ vs. ‘privacy. And Apple have taken this ‘bull by the horns’ and have now launched 2 new features in the latest updates for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS operating systems.
- Protect our kids from online predators, and this is a parental control for its Message App. It captures nude images and the child will be presented with a message that this is the case. If they chose to view it anyhow, the parent will be notified.
- Our (backed up) photo libraries will be scanned against a library of images by maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). by scanning the user’s Photo Library for matches against a table of hash values of known child abuse images.
We all, I am sure, agree that our kids need to be protected, this is a no-brainer, although at what cost is the question? And how effective will this be in practice?
Both initiatives above seem to be logical measures to (1) protect our kids from harmful content, and (2) find the perverts. However, unfortunately this is not going to work, at least long term, and the cost to our privacy will eventually outweigh the benefits of the short-term gain.
Why do I say this?
Online predators hangout together, they share tricks on how to ‘groom’ kids online and offline. One of these will be to get the kid to use another messaging App, there’s loads out there including Telegram and Signal. So what? if parental controls are installed on the kids digital devices -we have it installed- they can’t download anything without my (as a parent) consent, right?
In theory, yes, but most parents wouldn’t see any threat in downloading another messaging App, especially Signal, used as the preferred median of Snowden. This means that all good intentions of Apple are quite useless in practice. Also, it is still a lot of parents that are not tech savvy… and this will probably be the case for another 5-10 years, or maybe much longer…. read on…
So what do we mean by ‘tech savvy parents’? I have been tech savvy for 30 years, before kids were online, and I had a kid who was playing offline, SIM city and the like. I was tech savvy in those days. Now roll forward to 2021 andI have another kid who is 12 years old, and this is where it gets strange. I am tech savvy, most definitely, but not in her world, and maybe I am deceiving myself in thinking I understand her world. In this way she is more tech savvy than I am…. she knows what trolls are and how to deal with them, and I didn’t teach her that! What it means is that our kids can run circles around us, even myself, in their online world, and the online predators know this!
Then let us take the second feature, this time to catch these online predators. Okay they may catch the newbies, and idiots out there, but like I’ve stated above, the ones that are smarter are those guys/gals who hang out together on the ‘deep or dark’ web, or whatever it’s called. They are savvy, and know how to use Tor (The Onion Router) to protect themselves from the efforts of government authorities.
So I would say of the 2 new features, the first is partially effective, and the second could catch online predators which are not a part of this ‘predators community’, or are just incredibly stupid. Of course, they will catch some perverts in the beginning, as the technology is rolled out, mistakes are made…. I remember once when a picture of me, swimming naked in the Baltic was loaded up to the Apple iCloud accidentally…. oppps… panic and then delete… so this will happen, and some guys will be caught… and good thing too, but again…
In the long term the effectiveness of these 2 features will be minimal. If we try and project ourselves to 10-20 years ahead, to see where this will take us and look back again. What I see is the proliferation of these practices… triggered by the initial success on implementation, but then it will be seen just as a step in the direction of a society which has lost its right to a private life. The online predators would have migrated further underground, would have other ways to fulfil their abnormal sexual desires… our kids will still be vulnerable… and we will be vulnerable to the whims of our governments, good or bad.
What will be the next step following this kind of functionality in our digital tools? As mentioned in this article, maybe following in the steps of North Korea, or whatever is happening in China?
So what will we be thinking when we look back to the year 2021 in 2031? That Apple started all this, giving governments an open door, okay, it was just a small window in 2021 -the function is omnipresent in Apple devices, but it was a start to where we could be in 2031, i.e. the panopticon effect will be complete, and eventually ‘freedom of speech’ vs. ‘a right to a private life’, may no longer be a concern for any of us.