Apple, which has officially confirmed its plans to introduce a photo scanning system on users’ phones, has faced massive public discontent. The company’s own employees have also begun to show serious concern about this initiative.
A high level of secrecy has always been part of Apple’s corporate culture; company representatives have never commented on planned products and practically everything that happens within its walls. However, lively discussions by Apple employees regarding the initiative to scan custom photos did not seem to be hidden. Several employees of the company, on condition of anonymity, shared some details with Reuters.
Discussion of the innovation, in particular, took place in the corporate messenger Slack. Apple employees left over 800 messages expressing their concerns. Many expressed fears that this function could be used by repressive government departments around the world, and the devices will look not for materials related to child abuse, but for reasons to bring disliked and dissidents to justice. Other employees believe that Apple is damaging its reputation, because, according to the assurances of the company, user privacy is above all else.
Despite the fact that the discussion was attended by employees of the company who are not related to security and privacy issues, it can be assumed that the halo of secrecy that previously surrounded Apple is now undergoing some changes. Employees of the company began using the Slack messenger several years ago, but it gained particular popularity at Apple with the advent of the pandemic. Having switched to remote work, the workers kept in touch with each other and communicated not only on production issues, but also, for example, exchanged culinary recipes. Now the messenger has begun to be used for serious discussions as well.
However, in the thread dedicated to the innovation, some spoke out against criticism of the company, while others called Slack an unsuitable platform for discussion. Security officials were not so active in the discussion, others even considered Apple’s decision a reasonable response to external pressure regarding illegal materials. It has also been argued that scanning user-generated content will allow the company to implement end-to-end encryption in iCloud, a move that users have long awaited.
Apple’s initiative has sparked a storm of resentment not only from its own employees. Numerous activists and ordinary citizens sign and publish open letters to the manufacturer. Others recall the story of 2016, when Apple refused to comply with a court order and develop a tool to jailbreak an iPhone belonging to a terrorist suspect. Then the company said that such a tool will inevitably be used for other purposes.
On other issues, Apple often meets government departments halfway. For example, under pressure from the FBI, she was forced to abandon the implementation of end-to-end encryption in iCloud. The company also agreed to store the data of Chinese users in the PRC.
The introduction of the custom photo scanning function will start in the United States, after which other countries will be included in the project. And while Apple claims that the feature will only touch on child abuse, in practice things may turn out differently. For example, in the UK and Australia there are laws under which companies are required to provide “technical assistance” to the police and other law enforcement agencies in the investigation of crimes.