WhatsApp and Epic Games have slammed Apple’s newly announced plans to scan iPhones (in the US) for images of child sexual abuse. Dubbed neuralMatch, the scanning tool has received mixed reactions from privacy advocates as it aims to not only scan photos on an iPhone but also users’ encrypted messages for sexually explicit content as a child safety measure. In a series of tweets, WhatsApp head at Facebook, Will Cathcart raises concern over Apple’s new child safety tool and adds that the Cupertino-based tech company needs to do more to fight CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material). “Instead of focusing on making it easy for people to report content that’s shared with them, Apple has built software that can scan all the private photos on your phone - even photos you haven’t shared with anyone. That’s not privacy," he said.
In the tweets, Cathcart further indicates that never before personal computers have been scanned for sexually explicit content in the name of privacy. Calling neuralMatch a “surveillance system," the WhatsApp senior executive cautions that the tool could be misused in different countries by the governments. “Will this system be used in China? What content will they consider illegal there, and how will we ever know? How will they manage requests from governments all around the world to add other types of content to the list for scanning," he notes. Cathcart says that WhatsApp will not adopt such a system to scan users’ private data.
Can this scanning software running on your phone be error proof? Researchers have not been allowed to find out. Why not? How will we know how often mistakes are violating people’s privacy?— Will Cathcart (@wcathcart) August 6, 2021
In separate tweet-series, Epic Games chief executive and founder, Tim Sweeney criticised Apple for the same tool, saying people must think of children but in the context of growing up in a dystopia with monopolies “with unlimited surveillance power increasingly taking on governing roles." He further notes that 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."
Notably, Apple previously criticised Facebook’s data collection practices for targetted advertisements via its channels, like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. On the other hand, the Cupertino-based tech giant is embroiled in a legal battle with Epic Games after the former banned Fortnite from Apple App Stores for violating its commission guidelines. Epic’s legal pursuit essentially claims that Apple is now enjoying a monopoly, making it difficult for software developers to earn the revenue they deserve. Apple is yet to respond to Cathcart and Sweeney’s criticism of the planned neuralMatch scanning tool to curb CSAM.