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Posts tagged with "Privacy"

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal Interviews Craig Federighi About Apple’s Upcoming Child Safety Features

Last week, Apple announced two new child safety features coming this fall that stirred up controversy in the security and privacy world. The first is a technology that scans photos that are uploaded to customers’ iCloud Photo Libraries for digital fingerprints that match a database of known Child Sexual Abuse Material or ‘CSAM’ that is maintained by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a quasi-governmental entity in the US. The other is a machine learning-based technology used by Messages on an opt-in basis to alert children, and if they are under 13, their parents, of images flagged by the system as potentially pornographic.

The two technologies are different, but by announcing them at the same time in a way that wasn’t always clear, Apple found itself embroiled in controversy. The company has since tried to clarify the situation by publishing a set of FAQs that go into more detail about the upcoming features than the initial announcement did.

Then today, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, sat down with Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal for a video interview to explain the two features and how they work. Stern’s interview is well worth watching because it does more in just under 12 minutes to clarify what Apple is doing, and just as importantly not doing, than anything else I’ve watched or read.

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Apple Announces Child Safety Features Coming This Fall

Today, Apple announced three new child safety features for its operating systems that will launch when its operating systems are updated in the fall. The implementation details of the features are technically complex, which makes reading the full documentation worthwhile if you are concerned about how they are accomplished.

The first feature is a tool for parents that will be built into Messages. According to Apple:

The Messages app will use on-device machine learning to warn about sensitive content, while keeping private communications unreadable by Apple.

The opt-in tool will “warn children and their parents when receiving or sending sexually explicit photos.”

The second feature applies to photos stored online in users’ iCloud Photos library. Apple says:

iOS and iPadOS will use new applications of cryptography to help limit the spread of CSAM online, while designing for user privacy. CSAM detection will help Apple provide valuable information to law enforcement on collections of CSAM in iCloud Photos.

The screening of iCloud Photos images happens on-device using cryptographic hashes of known CSAM content and has to pass a human review process after passing certain thresholds before an account is disabled, and a report is made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The feature will be US-only at first.

Finally, Apple announced that:

[it] is also expanding guidance in Siri and Search by providing additional resources to help children and parents stay safe online and get help with unsafe situations. For example, users who ask Siri how they can report CSAM or child exploitation will be pointed to resources for where and how to file a report.

Siri and Search will also intervene when CSAM-related search requests are made.

To understand better how these features are being implemented by Apple, it’s worth visiting its new child safety webpage. At the bottom of the page are links to additional resources that explain the technology underlying the features.


Craig Federighi Provides Deeper Insight Into iCloud Private Relay

Fast Company’s Michael Grothaus interviewed Craig Federighi this week regarding the suite of new privacy features which Apple unveiled at WWDC. The article includes some notable technical details on how iCloud Private Relay works under the hood. One of the most interesting — and somewhat unfortunate — revelations is that iCloud Private Relay will only work from Safari. Users of other browsers are out of luck here.

The reason for this restriction has to do with Apple’s commitment to unassailable privacy, which happens by ensuring that no party can ever access both your IP address and your destination URL. From what I can gauge, this is actually a three-step process which looks something like this:

  • From Safari, you navigate to a particular URL. Safari encrypts this destination URL locally and then forwards your request to Apple’s iCloud Private Relay servers.
  • Apple’s servers anonymize your IP address so that it can’t be traced back to you, then forward the request to a trusted third-party’s servers.
  • The third-party decrypts the destination URL, then forwards the final request (decrypted URL plus anonymized IP address) to the destination.

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An Overview of the New Privacy Controls Coming to Apple’s OSes

Privacy has become a central theme of Apple’s OS updates in recent years, and this WWDC’s announcements were no different. During the opening keynote yesterday, the company introduced new privacy features across its OSes and system apps designed to put users in control of their data and prevent unwanted tracking. As Craig Federighi Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering explained in an Apple press release:

Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning. Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with. This year’s updates include innovative features that give users deeper insights and more granular control than ever before.

One of Apple’s focuses this year is on email. Hide My Email, which is part of iCloud+, lets users create random email addresses that forward to their main address, allowing them to avoid giving out their primary email address to third parties that may sell it or use it to send unsolicited messages. According to Apple, iCloud+ subscriptions with the new features the company announced will cost the same as they do now for the amount of storage offered with a current iCloud subscription. Another new mail feature is, Mail Privacy Protection, which is built into Apple’s Mail app, and prevents invisible pixel trackers that are used to tell if someone has opened a message and gather other information.

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Apple Tells CNET It’s Making Privacy Changes to AirTags and Has an Android App Coming Later This Year

CNET reports that Apple is adjusting the time within which they sound an alert when separated from their owners and adding ways to alert people when AirTags and third-party Find My network-enabled items are nearby.

Initially, AirTags were set to play a sound three days after they were separated from their owners. Now, the device will play a warning beep somewhere between 8 and 24 hours. Apple is also creating an Android app to allow owners of Android phones and devices to know if an AirTag or Find My network device is planted on them.

AirTags launched last month with numerous privacy protections baked into the device and related software, noting at the time that they expected to make adjustments along the way. With a few weeks of real-world use by customers and investigations by The Washington Post and others, today’s changes are a positive step toward ensuring that AirTags can only be used for their intended purpose: tracking belongings, not people.

The latest changes are being rolled out now and will be applied to AirTags when they are near an iPhone. Apple told CNET that it will have more details on the planned Android app later this year.

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Apple Releases New App Tracking Transparency Video

Apple has released a new video in its ongoing ‘Privacy. That’s iPhone’ campaign titled ‘Tracked.’ The latest spot starts with the lead character purchasing a coffee and then being followed around all day by a growing crowd of people that intrude on his privacy. Back home at the end of the day, the protagonist is prompted by his iPhone to ‘Ask App Not to Track’ or ‘Allow’ tracking, and as soon as ‘Ask App Not to Track’ is chosen, the mob of people crowding his apartment pop like balloons, disappearing in puffs of smoke.

Privacy isn’t an easy thing to depict visually, and no doubt, someone will take issue with aspects of the way the video portrays app trackers, but I enjoyed it. The video is entertaining, but it’s also useful to anyone who doesn’t realize how intrusive cross-app and website tracking can be.

This isn’t the first video released in the series. Late last month, Apple released ‘App Tracking Transparency’, which explains how the iOS 14.5 feature works. Earlier this year, the company also released ‘A Day In the Life of Your Data,’ a case study with real-world examples of what app trackers can do.



‘How Apple Designed AirTags to Be Privacy-First and Stalker-Proof’

Michael Grothaus at Fast Company interviewed Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of worldwide iPhone product marketing and Ron Huang, a senior director of sensing and connectivity, about AirTags. The focus of the story is the privacy features built into AirTags, and it includes this interesting nugget not covered during Apple’s event on Tuesday:

AirTags also have a unique security feature called Pairing Lock, which protects against people who may find your lost item and snatch the AirTag from it to use as their own. Huang likens Pairing Lock to the iPhone’s Activation Lock. “It means that if you lose your AirTag, somebody can’t just pick up your AirTag, re-pair it with their phone, and continue using it,” he says. “This has been really impactful for the iPhone and we think it will be for AirTag as well.”

I’ve seen a lot of questions raised online about exactly how AirTags work and their privacy features, and this Fast Company story is a great place to start to learn more.

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Kara Swisher Interviews Apple CEO Cook for Sway

Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed on Sway, The New York Times’ podcast hosted by Kara Swisher, in an episode released today. Swisher asked Cook about a wide range of topics, including privacy, iOS 14.5, Parler’s removal from the App Store, autonomous vehicles, AR, its upcoming court case with Epic Games, and more.

On privacy and the reaction to App Tracking Transparency, Cook said he was shocked by the degree of pushback the feature has caused. Asked whether he thought ATT will harm businesses that rely on digital advertising, Cook said:

I think that you can do digital advertising and make money from digital advertising without tracking people when they don’t know they’re being tracked. And I think time will prove that out. I’ve heard this about other things we’ve done in the past that it’s almost existential and it wasn’t. I don’t buy that.

Regarding Parler’s removal from the App Store, Cook explained that can return to the App Store when they comply with its rules:

Well, in some ways, it was a straightforward decision, because they were not adhering to the guidelines of the App Store. You can’t be inciting violence or allow people to incite violence. You can’t allow hate speech and so forth. And they had moved from moderating to not being able to moderate. But we gave them a chance to cure that. And they were unable to do that or didn’t do that. And so we had to pull them off. Now, having said that, Kara, I hope that they come back on. Because we work hard to get people on the store, not to keep people off the store. And so, I’m hoping that they put in the moderation that’s required to be on the store and come back, because I think having more social networks out there is better than having less.

Cook also made the case that human curation on the App Store is a crucial element of the marketplace’s security model, rejecting the notion that users should be able to sideload apps and elaborating:

I think curation is important as a part of the App Store. In any given week, 100,000 applications come into the app review. 40,000 of them are rejected. Most of them are rejected because they don’t work or don’t work like they say that they work. You can imagine if curation went away, what would occur to the App Store in a very short amount of time.

Regarding new products, Cook wouldn’t confirm whether Apple is planning to offer augmented reality hardware or an autonomous car. Still, his excitement about those underlying technologies was evident, noting that AR, in particular, is critical to Apple’s future.

Also of note was Cook’s comment that iOS 14.5 is ‘just a few weeks’ away, which is longer than I expected and perhaps a sign that an April product event will occur.

The interview, which is just under 36 minutes long, touches on other topics, including Apple’s role in policy issues like voting rights, working with the US government, and Cook’s role as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The episode is available in Apple Podcasts as well as third-party podcast players, and The New York Times has published a transcript of the entire interview.

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