Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has slammed Apple’s iCloud Photos and Messages child safety initiatives, claiming that they are a means for governments to conduct surveillance.
Apple launched a suite of tools on Thursday to help protect children online and reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The initiative would include features for iMessage, Siri, and Search, as well as a mechanism for scanning iCloud Photos for known CSM imagery as part of the tools.
As part of the outpouring of criticism directed at Apple, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney took to Twitter once more to express his displeasure with the company’s initiative. Sweeney’s Saturday proclamations, which followed an earlier appearance on the microblogging service on Friday, framed the tools as Apple potentially enabling future government surveillance of user data.
“I’ve tried hard to see this from Apple’s point of view,” starts Sweeney’s thread, “but inescapably, this is government sypware installed by Apple based on a presumption of guilt. Though Apple wrote the code, its function is to scan personal data and report it to the government.”
“This is entirely different from a content moderation system on a public forum or social medium,” the CEO continued. “Before the operator chooses to host the data publicly, they can scan it for whatever they don’t want to host. But this is peoples’ private data.”
Sweeney’s claims about personal data scanning are at odds with how Apple’s system actually works. Rather than inspecting the image, the scanning system compares mathematical hashes of files stored on iCloud.
I've tried hard to see this from Apple's point of view. But inescapably, this is government spyware installed by Apple based on a presumption of guilt. Though Apple wrote the code, its function is to scan personal data and report it to government.https://t.co/OrkfOSjvS1
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) August 7, 2021
The hashes generated from the files are compared to known CSAM image hashes, and the flagged accounts are reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Furthermore, the scanning is limited to iCloud Photos, and images stored solely on the device with iCloud Photos turned off cannot be examined in this manner.
Sweeney goes on to claim that Apple employs “dark patterns” to enable iCloud uploads by default, forcing people to “accumulate unwanted data,” and alludes to how iCloud.com email accounts cannot be deleted without the user losing everything they purchased in the Apple ecosystem.
Sweeney concludes his tweet thread by writing: “Liberty is built on due process and limited government. The existential threat here is an unholy alliance between government the monopolies who control online discourse and everyone’s devices, using the guise of private corporations to circumvent constitutional protections.”