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[News] Apple under fire for privacy concerns

The tech news has been crying foul all week about three new changes to the Apple OS as well as on all Apple devices.

The goal, according to Apple, is to release “child safety features in three areas, developed in collaboration with child safety experts.” These features include tools that help parents monitor their children if they receive “sensitive content,” tools intended to limit Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) and report instances to authorities, and updates to Siri and Search to help parents and children find information if they encounter such content, and block searches for the same. Apple intends to release these features later this year in updates to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey.”

Some privacy and computer science experts have praised Apple’s efforts. For example, computer vision researcher Dan Forsyth published a brief paper on 13 July in which he states “Apple’s approach preserves privacy better than any other I am aware of” and praises the tech because “The system will make possessing collections of CSAM pictures in the Apple environment much more risky.”

And although pretty much everyone is in favor of reducing CSAM online and especially on our children’s devices, the way Apple is going about it raises a lot of red flags for others. Opponents claim that these updates will allow Apple to monitor iMessages and other content on our devices and stored in the iCloud, something that the company in the past has claimed not to do. 

And as a result, Electronic Frontier Foundation argues in a statement from 5 August that “Apple is opening the door to broader abuses.” According to the organization, “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 they warn that such technology is a slippery slope to using it for other purposes.

As EFF notes, “one of the technologies originally built to scan and hash child sexual abuse imagery has been repurposed to create a database of “terrorist” content that companies can contribute to and access for the purpose of banning such content,” a database that they point out is not subject to meaningful oversight.

This is an ongoing story. To read a more in-depth analysis of the issues, check out this article from The Verge. 

In other news

  • Hacker to return $600 million in stolen cryptocoin. In a bizarre twist to what has been described as the biggest DeFi (deregulated finance) hack in history, after stealing $600 million in cryptocurrency last Tuesday from China-based Poly Network, the hacker had a change of heart. Last Wednesday Poly Network received a message via an Ethereum transaction from the hacker, saying they wished to return the funds — asking for a few anonymous wallets to facilitate this. Coindesk reports that Poly Network has set up the wallets. The hacker described himself as a “legend” in a separate message for pulling off the hack of the century, and it seems this is reward enough. Poly Network’s early security audit explains the theft as the possible result of a bug or due to a leaked private key. Their August 11 Twitter message to the hacker says, simply: “Hope you will transfer assets to addresses below”, and has prompted some amusing comments beginning with ‘Dear Hacker’.
  • Fire the fox? According to Mozilla’s Public Data Report, the Firefox browser lost almost 46 million users since 2018. According to reporting in Gizmodo, the browser went from 244 million active users in 2018 to under 50 million at some points afterwards (users fluctuate over the course of the year). They suggest users are choosing Chrome (the default browser on Android), Microsoft Edge (the default browser for Windows), and Safari (the default browser for Apple iOS.) Currently with about 198 million users at the end of June 2021, Firefox isn’t dead yet, but without a built-in platform to support it, it may continue to struggle. 
  • Automattic goes shopping again. After acquiring DayOne, a journaling app, and Pocket Casts, a podcasting app, WP Tavern announced this week that Automattic has dropped $30 million in a professional email suite caled Titan. Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said that Titan “will be a big part of how WordPress.com offers email going forward.” Furthermore, Mullenweg told Bloomberg that “We need an alternative to Google and Microsoft, which have started to monopolize email,” and said small businesses need a product that addresses their needs.

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[News] Apple under fire for privacy concerns .

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