New Planned iPhone Feature Seen to Undermine User Privacy, Security: Scary Details Revealed

New Planned iPhone Feature Seen to Undermine User Privacy, Security: Scary Details Revealed
A new feature set to be included in the next update of iOS15, allows client-side scanning, a capability many fears would undermine user security and privacy. Photo : Howard Bouchevereau/Unsplash

Apple is expected to push through with its controversial client-side scanning feature on the upcoming iOS 15.2, which is seen to radically change the iPhone forever.

This is part of the company's child safety initiative that includes two separate updates to the iOS. One would entail the scanning of users' photo galleries on their iPhones, utilizing artificial intelligence to compare the images with government-created watchlists, alerting authorities about child sexual abuse content, Forbes reported. The other update entails letting parents allow Apple's AI to warn them about sexually explicit material on their children's iPhones that were sent or received through iMessage.

Client-Side Scanning to Allow Wide-Scale Monitoring of User Devices

These proposed updates triggered overwhelming concern over their implications on privacy and security. Such client-device scanning of photo libraries may open disturbing possibilities of people or groups monitoring what you store in your phone, breaking sacred privacy doctrines. On the other hand, however, this is a sound method to track and prevent illegal content from reaching children. But the planned changes on iMessage, wherein non-users are allowed to monitor messages received or sent, should be a serious issue. This goes against the main purpose of a messaging app, which is to protect the privacy and sanctity of person-to-person communications.

While Apple shows good intentions in planning these updates, which is to protect children, observers see serious issues resulting from them.

These client-side scanning capabilities would allow government to intervene when content is flagged, undermining the perceived notion that whatever you keep in the iPhone, stays in the iPhone, the Forbes report added. These would also open the door for government entities, whether local or foreign, to search and monitor content beyond child sex abuse material.

Currently, there remains no indication yet of real-world availability of client-side scanning. A developer beta of iOS 15.2 just included a slightly diminished iteration of the iMessage update. This diminished version came to be because it failed to add the planned parent notifications of flagged images viewed by their kids.

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Having no such feature means the update may just be slightly different to the current iPhones' use of AI in categorizing photos. Yet with the planned changes on iMessage, which is end-to-end encrypted, the addition of AI content tracking would definitely change the platform as we know it. This will remove any technical impediment to wide-scale monitoring, which becomes a no-turning-back direction for iMessage.

Limiting Client-Side Scanning Leads to 'Broader Abuses'

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, warned that limiting client-side scanning to monitoring sexually explicit content sent to or received by children was "impossible," leading to extensive snooping and interference of private material. It said the move will "break key promises of the messenger's encryption," thus allowing "broader abuses."

End-to-end encryption safeguards the transmission of content between two users' devices. These devices are outside of this end-to-end encryption because content needs to be decrypted for users to view or read them.

While end-to-end encryption stays intact, a client-side scanning capability remains a "backdoor" for malicious entities to access information on a device, since they do not need to compromise the transport layer to succeed, the Cornell University study "Bugs in Our Pockets: The Risks of Client-Side Scanning" noted. Pegasus, the controversial corporate-grade surveillance software, does not need to break end-to-end encryption to covertly monitor target devices.

Users open such apps as iMessage because they feel secure that the content you share or the messages you send or receive are protected and are not viewed by people other than yourself and the other person you are messaging. This protection enclave includes the app, the transport layer, and the receiving app on the destination device. But if the app would include a form of snooping, privacy and security are threatened, changing our perception of the app.

As such, while end-to-end encryption is maintained, the purpose and intention of such feature on iMessage has been undermined.

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