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Apple delays plan to scan devices for child abuse material

Apple announced the new technology last month. (Source: AFP/Getty Images)

CALIFORNIA: Apple has delayed plans to roll out detection technology, which would have scanned US users’ iPhones and IPads in search of child sexual abuse material after backlash from customers and privacy advocates.

The company last month announced features aimed at flagging child sexual abuse images that users store on its iCloud servers. Apple did not say how long it will delay the program.

“Previously we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them and to help limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material,” a statement issued by the company.

It added, “Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

The system was built to look for images that match those from libraries assembled by law enforcement to find and track the dissemination of child abuse material on the internet. Some child safety advocates were disappointment by Apple’s announcement.

“We absolutely value privacy and want to avoid mass surveillance in any form from government, but to fail children and fail the survivors of child sexual abuse by saying we’re not going to look for known rape videos and images of children because of some extreme future that may never happen just seems wholly wrong to me,” said Glen Pounder, chief operating officer of Child Rescue Coalition.

Nelson O. Bunn Jr, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association lashed out at privacy advocates, who he claims failed “to articulate how the protection of children and the prosecution of offenders is unable to be balanced with the privacy concerns of Apples’ customers.”

Privacy campaigners expressed concern that the technology could be expanded and used by authoritarian governments to spy on citizens. The Electronic Frontiers Foundation has been one of the most vocal critics of the system, gathering a petition signed by 25,000 customers opposing the move.