The head of Facebook-owned WhatsApp slammed Apple's plan to scan iPhones for child abuse images as a 'setback for people's privacy all over the world'

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The head of Facebook-owned WhatsApp slammed Apple's plan to scan iPhones for child abuse images as a 'setback for people's privacy all over the world'
Will Cathcart. Will Cathcart/LinkedIn
  • The head of WhatsApp shared concerns over Apple's new data scanning software plan in a tweet thread.
  • Apple plans to release software the scans users' phones for images of child sex abuse materials.
  • The thread refers to user data privacy and the potential of intrusive government surveillance.

Will Cathcart, the head of Facebook's WhatsApp instant messaging app, called out Apple's decision to scan iPhones for child abuse images in a Twitter thread.

One tweet in the thread read, "I read the information Apple put out yesterday and I'm concerned. I think this is the wrong approach and a setback for people's privacy all over the world."

Apple previously announced a plan to release software that could search and detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the phones of US users. Human reviewers could then alert authorities of potential illegal activity.

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Cathcart's thread began by denouncing child sexual abuse crime, saying, "Child sexual abuse material and the abuser who traffic in it are repugnant." He added that WhatsApp has worked to streamline ways to report and ban those who traffic in CSAM without breaking the encryption and the privacy of its users.

Cathcart also said the Apple software would allow access to "scan all of a user's private photos on your phone - even photos you haven't shared with anyone."

An Apple spokesperson denied several of Cathcart's claims to Insider, saying that the new Apple software would only detect child sex abuse materials in iCloud - which users can disable at any time. They also said that image hashes, digital markers that algorithms use to identify similar images, of CSAM were exclusively provided by the National center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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Facebook recently hired a team of researchers to study ways to analyze data without decrypting it, The Information reported. The research would allow Facebook to collect user data for targeted ads without reading encrypted information shared between users or sharing it with advertisers.

Apple has made privacy a selling point for its products and services. But Apple's announcement has drawn criticism from data privacy experts, who are concerned at the long-term implications of having such intrusive technology, like potential government exploitation.

Cathcart pointed to a 2016 letter from Apple to its consumers, where the company says: "it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."

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The Apple spokesperson said Apple uses one operating system globally, which gives no way for specific governments or actors to modify the system for a specific region or device.

Insider was unable to reach Facebook and WhatsApp for comment by publication.

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