Apple: iPhone Photo Scans 'Not a Privacy Risk'

John Lister's picture

Apple has admitted it scans iPhone images for pictures of children being abused. It says it will refuse any government request to use the facility for other purposes.

The scans cover any photos uploaded to the iCloud Photos backup service rather than scanning the entire phone. This feature is switched off by default. Once it's switched on, any photo added to the device is automatically uploaded to iCloud and will therefore be covered by the new scans.

When Apple scans the image, it doesn't try to figure out the content. Instead it compares it to a database of known child abuse images. If it finds a match, a human will review the images and, if deemed appropriate, report the user to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

According to Apple, the chances of an image being mistakenly labeled a match is less than one in one trillion per year.

Apple: We Say No To Governments

Privacy campaigners say they are worried governments could pressure Apple to use the technology to flag other images, for example those which could reveal somebody is a political opponent or that they breach laws on sexual preferences.

Apple firmly denies this, saying: "We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before, and have steadfastly refused those demands. We will continue to refuse them in the future.

"Let us be clear, this technology is limited to detecting [child abuse images] stored in iCloud and we will not accede to any government's request to expand it." (Source:

Apple's Word 'Not Enough'

Critics including the Electronic Frontier Foundation say the biggest problem with the technology is that the scanning and matching takes place on the phone itself rather than on Apple's servers. It says this makes it too easy for Apple to change the scope of the technology.

According to the EFF, the biggest problem is that there's no technical barrier on this happening. Instead the only limit is Apple giving its word. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is this acceptable from Apple? Do you trust it not to extend the scope of the scans? Does it make a difference that this only affects an optional feature?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (9 votes)


Unrecognised's picture

If you go and stay in a hotel you've got a reasonable expectation that nobody will enter your room and go through your belongings, or otherwise surveil you while you're there. That's also rented accommodation. If you rent accommodation for your photos, you should reasonably expect privacy not to be violated.

A dear friend said of invasions of privacy in Facebook 'I don't mind; I've got nothing to hide'. That person was a Jewish baby in WWII in the Netherlands who survived because someone hid them in an attic before emigrating after the war. For such a person to be so complacent about privacy astounded me.

History shows us that every personal right and freedom has to be fought for, tooth and nail. This doesn't put me in the crazy, selfish anti-vax, anti-mask or paedophilia apologist brigades. If authorities have good reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can get search warrants. For private corporations to do their job for them isn't acceptable.

I do wonder why (almost exclusively) men are so prone to this sort of behaviour...why it's so widespread

Really glad right now I'm not an apple saucepan frog. Not so happy being a windows/android one though. The water's heating up everywhere, and we're losing our legs and our lungs and turning into beings who can't survive outside the saucepan. The perfect feast is brewing.

OadbyPC's picture

Since time immemorial, the authorities have claimed they need increased powers to catch criminals but catching criminals has never been the problem: here in the UK we regularly read about criminals with 40+ convictions; if catching them was a problem, how did they get convicted so many times?

All the authorities need to do is remove criminals from society PERMANENTLY after a 2nd or 3rd conviction and, hey presto no more criminals, no more crime.

The Wars on Drugs/Crime/Terrorism could have come straight out of Orwell's 1984!