Apple will deploy its nude photo detection tool in France to protect minors

The next beta of iOS 16, and obviously its final version in September, will give access to the Safety of communications function in Messages, which makes it possible to avoid exposing minor users to images of a sexual nature, and warns them if they are, themselves, about to send pictures containing nudity.

Apple will take a new step in the protection of minors who use its products, and especially its integrated Messages application. From beta 4 of iOS and iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura, and obviously in the final versions that will be released next fall, a set of functions will appear for French (and German) users.

Protect and advise underage users

baptized Communications security in Messagesand Extended tips in Siri, Spotlight, and Safari searches, these functions aim to reduce the risk of exposure of young users to content of a sexual nature, or even the dissemination, on their part, of images exposing their nudity. The second function, which will be available on the three OS mentioned above, plus watchOS 9, helps users know what to do, how to react in the event of a problem or simply how and to whom to report online abuse. It will thus be possible to ask Siri for help or to conduct a search on this subject directly from Spotlight, in macOS.

Already available in the United States since last December, these two functions were then deployed in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Activated by a parent since screen timeas part of iCloud family accounts, Communications security in Messages actually does two things. First, to protect minors from incoming messages containing images exposing them to nudity, and, second, to warn them when they are about to send nude photos themselves.

Apple – Examples of warning screens in the Communications Security feature in Messages.

In the first case, a warning is displayed and the snapshot is grayed out, blocking the content until the user confirms that they want to consult it. You must press the View image button to view it. In the second case, a set of advice is given to the minor user to warn him of his rights and the risks he takes. It is also possible for him to inform his parents, if he wishes. The user’s legal representatives will not be notified automatically for obvious privacy reasons.

It is important to clarify two things. On the one hand, that these warnings in case of reception and sending are displayed indifferently, whether the sender or the receiver appears or not in the Contacts of the user. On the other hand, that the end-to-end encryption of the communication is not interrupted by this content monitoring.

Apple also insists that these functions are operated locally on the device, and that no data is transmitted to the Cupertino company. On this subject, Apple specifies that its models for detecting the offending photos have been trained with the help of experts specializing in the fight against child pornography and sexual abuse of minors.

Some questions…

In France (and in Germany, therefore), the availability of this function will be linked to iOS and iPadOS 16, and to macOS 13 Ventura. Good news of course since this function can further protect young users, without exposing their privacy.
Nevertheless, and we have not had any satisfactory answers on this point, we find it surprising that French users cannot take advantage of the “communication security in Messages” only with an upcoming version of iOS. In our view, this poses two problems, which are linked. In addition to the fact that it will be necessary to wait until the fall so that all French people can take advantage of it, this de facto reduces the number of iPhones and iPads concerned. Indeed, iOS 16 has greatly reduced the list of devices with which it will be compatible when compared to that of iOS 15. The oldest smartphones, before the iPhone 8, will not be affected. However, it is often these older devices that are entrusted, second-hand, to children.

This limitation is all the more surprising since the function has been available since iOS 15.2 in the United States. It is therefore possible to deploy it on old iPhones and on iOS 15. Apple did not have any clear answers to provide on the reasons for these limits, nor on the reason for a deployment in such restricted stages.

If you are also wondering why Apple does not extend this incoming and outgoing content filtering function to its operating systems, beyond the Messages application alone, which would allow all communication applications to benefit from it, the explanation is most certainly due to the fiasco caused by an approaching function announced in the summer of 2021. It consisted in particular in scanning the content of the photo libraries present on devices like the iPhone in search of possible child pornography content. Associations for the defense of individual freedoms then pointed out the risks to privacy, and the possible abuses that such a system would possibly allow in the hands of a totalitarian regime. Apple had quickly put the development of this function on hold, to finally backtrack.

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