Researchers who made Apple-like photo scan: says technology is too dangerous

Two Princeton University researchers who, like Apple, developed a system for detecting child abuse warn that the technology is too dangerous to use. Jonathan Mayer and Anunay Kulshrestha's research project started two years ago. The two wanted to see if they could develop a system that could detect child abuse on end-to-end encrypted platforms.

The researchers managed to develop a working prototype, but they said they ran into a major problem. "Our system was easy to reuse for surveillance and censorship. The design wasn't limited to a specific category of content; a platform could load any content matching database, and the person using the platform wouldn't know," the researchers said in a statement. column for The Washington Post.

For example, a foreign government could force a platform to report people who hold unwelcome opinions. A rogue user could also manipulate the system to expose innocent users to controls. The researchers say they were so shocked that they warned against their own system design.

Mayer and Kulshrestha planned to present their research at a conference soon, until Apple announced its own plans for a photo-control system a week before the presentation. According to the researchers, Apple's system is not technically more effective than what they developed. "But we were surprised to see that Apple barely had answers to the tough questions we had asked."

According to the researchers, there is literally nothing Apple can do when, for example, the Chinese government demands to check iPhones for pro-democracy material. Apple has announced measures to combat abuse, but according to the researchers, these are seriously inadequate.

“Apple is betting it could restrict the system to certain content in certain countries, despite immense government pressure. We hope it succeeds in both protecting children and encouraging the wider use of encryption. But make no mistake, Apple gambles with security, privacy and freedom of expression worldwide," the researchers conclude.

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