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Apple just confirmed that it will start scanning iPhone and iCloud photos for child abuse images

The feature will come with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey.

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After a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins tweeted yesterday that Apple was working on a system to scan iCloud photos for child abuse, the company has confirmed this is coming in iOS 15.

The iPhone maker confirmed the news to TechCrunch and notes that this and additional safety features are coming with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. Other updates include filters that block children from sending and receiving potentially sexually explicit photos.

With the child abuse photos, it will be limited to images uploaded to iCloud and will use two systems to verify the content without actually decrypting the content. This comes in the form of NeuralHash and threshold secret sharing.

NeuralHash attempts to match photos to known child abuse photos provided by agencies like National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). While it doesn’t actually scan the photo, it scans what is called a Hash. Think of this hash as a unique set of letters and numbers that isn’t affected by things like cropping a known image.

Then, with threshold secret sharing, it compares the number of child abuse photos identified through NeuralHash with the number of photos someone has in iCloud to decide if it needs to proceed by decrypting the offending images and sending the information to law enforcement.

Apple has now released documentation on how it will all work.

While this does seem like it is coming out of left field, TechCrunch makes a good point, noting that tech companies are coming under increased pressure to provide the government with backdoors or systems that allow them to detect or solve serious crimes.

At launch, this security measure will only be available in the US. It’s unclear when or if these child abuse detection systems will release around the rest of the world.

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