WhatsApp CEO and Other Technology Professionals Retaliate Against Apple’s Child Safety Initiative

Over the weekend, an open letter with over 4,000 signatures circulated online, adding to the chorus of voices expressing alarm and dismay about Apple’s latest Child Safety measures. The Apple Privacy Letter urged the iPhone manufacturer to “reconsider its technological rollout” or risk undoing “decades of effort by engineers, researchers, and policy advocates” on privacy safeguards.

Apple’s Strategy

Unveiled on Thursday, Apple’s strategy entails comparing hashes of photos uploaded to iCloud to a database containing hashes of known CSAM images. Apple claims that approach allows it to keep user data encrypted and perform the analysis on-device while still reporting users to authorities if they are sharing child abuse images. Another component of Apple’s Kid Safety policy is the ability to notify parents if their child under the age of 13 sends or views photographs with sexually explicit material. Apple noted in an internal document that users would be “concerned about the implications” of the systems.

WhatsApp’s Stand

In a Twitter Thread, WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart stated that his firm would not implement the security measures, calling Apple’s approach “extremely worrisome.” Cathcart stated that WhatsApp’s method to combat child exploitation, which partially relies on user reports, retains encryption the same way as Apple’s does and has resulted in the business submitting over 400,000 incidents to the National Center for Missing Exploited Children by 2020. (Apple is also collaborating with the Center on CSAM detection.)

Apple’s Response

Facebook and WhatsApp have reason to be angry with Apple over privacy issues. Apple’s changes to ad tracking in iOS 14.5 sparked a spat between the two firms, with Facebook purchasing newspaper advertisements denouncing Apple’s privacy restrictions as damaging to small businesses. Apple responded by claiming that the update “merely demands” that consumers be offered the option of being monitored or not.

Is the Hashing Mechanism Faulty?

Edward Snowden, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), academics, and others are among those who have expressed alarm over Apple’s policies. Before the piece was made public, Matthew Green, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, voiced his opposition. He tweeted about Apple’s ambitions and how governments and other parties might exploit the hashing mechanism.

The EFF issued a statement blasting Apple’s proposal, describing it as a “thoroughly documented, highly thought-out, and narrowly-scoped backdoor.” The EFF’s press statement goes into depth on how the organization feels Apple’s Child Safety features might be misused by governments and how they harm user privacy.

Kendra Albert, a teacher at Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic, has a thread on the possible hazards to LGBT children and Apple’s early ambiguity about age ranges for the parental alerts tool. Snowden retweeted the Financial Times piece regarding the system, describing what Apple is doing in his own words.

Voices Batting for Apple

However, not every reaction has been negative. Ashton Kutcher, who has been an advocate for the abolition of child sex trafficking since 2011, considers Apple’s work a “huge step forward” in the fight against CSAM.