Apple announces new safety tools to detect child sexual abuse content on iCloud

The new tools will be introduced, in the US first, later this year.

New on-screen alerts for Apple's Messages app designed to boost child safety and protect them from sexual abuse material
New on-screen alerts for Apple's Messages app designed to boost child safety and protect them from sexual abuse material

Apple has announced a trio of new child safety tools designed to protect young people and limit the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

Among the features is new technology that will allow Apple to detect known CSAM images stored in iCloud Photos and report them to law enforcement agencies.

It will be joined by a new feature in the Messages app which will warn children and their parents using linked family accounts when sexually explicit photos are sent or received, with images blocked from view and on-screen alerts; and new guidance in Siri and Search which will point users to helpful resources when they perform searches related to CSAM.

The iPhone maker said the new detection tools have been designed to protect user privacy and do not allow the tech giant to see or scan a user’s photo album.

Instead, the system will look for matches, securely on the device, based on a database of “hashes” – a type of digital fingerprint – of known CSAM images provided by child safety organisations.

This matching will only take place when a user attempts to upload an image to their iCloud Photo Library.

Apple diagram showing how its new CSAM detection technology works
Apple says the new detection system ensures user privacy by being done securely on-device (Apple)

Apple said that only if a threshold for matches for harmful content is exceeded would it then be able to manually review the content to confirm the match and then send a report to safety organisations.

The new tools are set to be introduced later this year as part of the iOS and iPadOS 15 software update due in the autumn, and will initially be introduced in the US only, but with plans to expand further over time.

The company reiterated that the new CSAM detection tools would only apply to those using iCloud Photos and would not allow the firm or anyone else to scan the images on a user’s camera roll.

The new Messages tool will show a warning to a child when they are sent sexually explicit photos, blurring the image and reassuring them that it is OK if they do not want to view the image as well as presenting them with helpful resources.

It will also inform them that as an extra precaution if they do choose to view the image, their parents will be sent a notification.

Similar protections will be in place if a child attempts to send a sexually explicit image, Apple said.

The announcement is the latest in a series of major updates from the iPhone maker geared at improving user safety, following a number of security updates early this year designed to cut down on third-party data collection and improve user privacy when they use an iPhone.

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