Apple’s Disastrous New Proposal Could Destroy User Privacy

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By Quentin Choy

Let me start off by clarifying that I’m in no way an expert in technology or privacy rights.  However, many of my posts have covered issues regarding censorship, free speech, and privacy in America.

Apple’s Well-Intentioned Proposal

In an effort to combat sexual abuse, particularly among children, Apple announced plans to scan the photo library of users on iPhones.

While this may not necessarily be a legal issue or a constitutional violation, the recent decision by Apple regarding privacy is certainly a slippery slope away from free speech.

An issue I have with Apple’s proposal is that it opens the door to further intrusion on user privacy for increasingly broad reasons.

One of my political heroes and NSA whistleblower summed up this idea on Apple’s decision to CNBC.

“Make no mistake: if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow.”

Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower

While the goal of Apple is obviously a positive one, the proposal to scan through everyone’s photo galleries in a blanket manner is troubling.

Without a warrant or just cause, the overwhelming majority of photo galleries scanned will be those of users who have done nothing wrong. The privacy of these users will be violated for no reason.

“Privacy is a fundamental human right… We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It’s not always easy. But that’s the kind of innovation we believe in.”

from Apple’s Privacy Page

While I know that full privacy cannot be expected from a product created by large companies such as Apple, catch-all scanning like this in a casual manner seems wrong.

San Bernardino and Apple’s Privacy Precedent

Back in February of 2016, Apple released a message to their customers regarding the U.S. government’s demand that Apple break the privacy agreement with its users following a deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.

“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

from Apple following the San Bernardino shooting in 2015
The shooter’s vehicle.

What’s concerning is that Apple refused to comply with a government order for a specific terrorist act, but is now prepared to do a blanket search of all users for a far less specific issue.

I give credit to Apple for what they did to protect their customers’ privacy back in 2016. 

“When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

from Apple following the San Bernardino shooting in 2015

However, I feel that this new, broad proposal to scan users’ photo galleries is wrong.

Conclusion

I hope that Apple will be able to see the dangers of what they plan to do and reverse course,  instead returning to the same set of standards they used in the San Bernardino case regarding proper search warrants and subpoenas.

While issues like censorship and cancel culture tie into modern free speech issues, privacy in regard to technology is another realm of free speech that is usually more subdued and under the radar.

Again, as a clarification, I obviously believe that sexual abuse is wrong, especially when children are involved, but the proper search warrants must be applied in specific cases with just cause rather than violating the privacy of many innocent users. 

  • Apple: A Free Speech and Privacy Win for the Time Being

  • Apple’s Disastrous New Proposal Could Destroy User Privacy

  • Good Intentions, Bad Results: Biden Administration Veers HARD in Wrong Direction on Censorship and Free Speech

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9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This is indeed a very slippery slope! I don’t use an Apple phone, but if Apple does it, will Samsung and others be far behind? And, as you say, it opens the door to all sorts of privacy abuses down the road. I have only pictures of my cats and flowers on my phone, but I would still feel creepy knowing that some stranger was viewing them. There are better ways to catch child abusers and pornographers, I should think. Thanks for the info, Quentin … I hadn’t heard this before now.

    1. Jill,

      I too have a Samsung, and while us Android users get all the hate, you and I are safer for the time being. This slope is definitely as slippery as they come, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung unfortunately followed suit.

      Thanks!
      Quentin

      1. Oh, I have no doubt that ultimately Samsung will follow suit. I have threatened at least 100 times to ditch my cell phone and live without it in the past few months! And, in truth, I have maybe 3 actual phone conversations per year, but I do text a LOT, and I use it to keep tabs on my blog, to email, etc. I do wish the tech companies saw us as their customers rather than as their chattel. Sigh.

      2. Jill,

        Yes, I’ve thought about it too, but it is so admittedly true that young people have a hard time living without their phones. Hahaha.

        Quentin

      3. So do us ‘old’ people, my friend! If/when I wake during the night, the first thing I do is check my phone, which is on the pillow beside my head, for messages!

      4. Heck no! My granddaughter and I were talking about it just this evening when we were under a severe storm warning, and how lost we would be if we had no cell phone service for a few days! We both have Galaxy phones, and both were bought at the same time, about 4 years ago. The batteries don’t stay charged like they once did, and we’re thinking it’s probably time for a new one, but damn! They are so expensive! And then there’s all the hassle of getting everything set up just the way you want it. I was hoping this phone would outlive me! 😉

      5. Jill, that is exactly how it is now with phones! I’ve had this same phone since I was in high school, and it is about the same age as yours and the battery difference is definitely noticeable. I’m hoping I can squeeze another year or two out of it because phones are terribly expensive like you say!

        Quentin

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