Apple has said that American iPhone users’ entire photo libraries will be checked for known child abuse images if they are stored in the online iCloud service.
The disclosure came in a series of media briefings in which Apple is seeking to dispel alarm over its announcement last week that it will scan users’ phones, tablets and computers for millions of illegal pictures. The company has clarified that it will only apply to photos being uploaded and stored online.
While Google, Microsoft and other technology platforms check uploaded photos or emailed attachments against a database of identifiers provided by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and other clearing houses, security experts faulted Apple’s plan as more invasive because the scanning happens on users’ devices.
Some said they expected that governments would seek to force the iPhone maker to expand the system to peer into devices for other material.
In a posting to its website on Sunday, Apple said it would fight any such attempts, which can occur in secret courts.
“We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before, and have steadfastly refused those demands,” Apple wrote. “We will continue to refuse them in the future.”
In the briefing on Monday, Apple officials said the company’s system, which will roll out this year with the release of its iOS 15 operating system, will check existing files on a user’s device if users have those photos synced to the company’s storage servers.
The technology will roll out first in the United States, with other countries potentially to follow.
Julie Cordua, chief executive of Thorn, a group that has developed technology to help law enforcement officials detect sex trafficking, said about half of all child sexual abuse material is formatted as video.