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Apple Doubles Down on “For the Children” Narrative in New Internal Memo About iCloud Photo Scanning

Not even one day later, Apple’s plans to scan your iCloud images makes controversial waves. Check out the full memo below.

Illustration by Front Page Tech

Yesterday, we covered Apple’s announcement about “Enhanced Protections for Children” in a two-parter.

The first, covered the new features coming to the Messages app that will notify parents if their child sends or receives sexually explicit photos and new knowledge for Siri and Search.

The second, covered the more controversial topic about Apple’s plans to scan your iCloud photos for detection of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) content. For the full episode where we covered this, check out FPT’s latest video on you YouTube.

Not surprisingly, the plans have sparked concern among privacy advocates who questioned how Apple could prevent their system from being exploited by bad actors.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this in a statement yesterday: “it’s impossible to build a client-side scanning system that can only be used for sexually explicit images sent or received by children” and that no matter how well-intended all this is, it “will break key promises of the messenger’s encryption itself and open the door to broader abuses.”

They’ve even faced pushback from notable sources such as Edward Snowden who tweeted this:

In an internal memo distributed to the teams that worked on this project and obtained by 9to5Mac, Apple acknowledges the “misunderstandings” around the new features, but doubles down on its belief that these features are part of an “important mission” for keeping children safe.

According to 9to5Mac, the memo, distributed late last night, was written by Sebastien Marineau-Mes, a software VP at Apple. Marineau-Mes says that Apple will continue to “explain and detail the features” included in this suite of Expanded Protections for Children.

Marineau-Mes continues that while Apple has seen “many positive responses” to these new features, it is aware that “some people have misunderstandings” about how the features will work, and “more than a few are worried about the implications.” Nonetheless, Marineau-Mes doubles down on Apple’s belief that these are necessary features to “protect children” while also maintaining Apple’s “deep commitment to user privacy.”

The memo in full reads:

Today marks the official public unveiling of Expanded Protections for Children, and I wanted to take a moment to thank each and every one of you for all of your hard work over the last few years. We would not have reached this milestone without your tireless dedication and resiliency.

Keeping children safe is such an important mission. In true Apple fashion, pursuing this goal has required deep cross-functional commitment, spanning Engineering, GA, HI, Legal, Product Marketing and PR. What we announced today is the product of this incredible collaboration, one that delivers tools to protect children, but also maintain Apple’s deep commitment to user privacy. 

We’ve seen many positive responses today. We know some people have misunderstandings, and more than a few are worried about the implications, but we will continue to explain and detail the features so people understand what we’ve built. And while a lot of hard work lays ahead to deliver the features in the next few months, I wanted to share this note that we received today from NCMEC. I found it incredibly motivating, and hope that you will as well.

I am proud to work at Apple with such an amazing team. Thank you!

– Sebastien Marineau-Mes, a software VP at Apple

The memo also included a message from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, signed by Marita Rodriguez, executive director of strategic partnerships who Apple is working closely with on the new iCloud image scanning features.

The full message from NCMEC:

Team Apple,

I wanted to share a note of encouragement to say that everyone at NCMEC is SO PROUD of each of you and the incredible decisions you have made in the name of prioritizing child protection.

It’s been invigorating for our entire team to see (and play a small role in) what you unveiled today.

I know it’s been a long day and that many of you probably haven’t slept in 24 hours. We know that the days to come will be filled with the screeching voices of the minority.

Our voices will be louder.

Our commitment to lift up kids who have lived through the most unimaginable abuse and victimizations will be stronger.

During these long days and sleepless nights, I hope you take solace in knowing that because of you many thousands of sexually exploited victimized children will be rescued, and will get a chance at healing and the childhood they deserve.

Thank you for finding a path forward for child protection while preserving privacy.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Check out our full episode covering Apple’s new child safety protocols below.

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