Apple has had a very bad week. Or perhaps a couple of weeks. Regular readers will not be shocked that I am writing this on an M1 MacBook Pro and using Apple’s new TouchID enabled keyboard. I am a long-standing lover of all things Apple.
I am also a believer in the freedom of individuals to privacy. In a bizarre attempt to justify its new image fingerprinting and matching technology being applied to every iCloud image and many locally stored ones too the company embarked on a publicity frenzy. TechCrunch editor Matthew Panzarino published a lengthy interview with Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s Head of Privacy
Cynics might re-label his title.
The interview is solid and Erik definitely does a good job of calming the nerves of those who might feel that Apple is prying into their private business as part of an attempt to catch those who abuse children.
As I read it I couldn’t help but conclude that Apple has a blind spot. The tech Apple has built is impressive. It involves a digital fingerprint or watermark from an image and then the ability to match that fingerprint to a database of known images of missing or abused children. This scanning will happen on all iCloud images and many images that are sent in messages on an ios device. Apple claims to be doing the world a service by making an unobtrusive scan that produces a list of identifiers but sees images known to be of concern for child safety reasons.
Here is the problem. This fingerprinting technology could be used for images or videos for entirely different purposes. If a government wanted to find political activists accused of being dissidents for example. All it would need to do would be to open its image database to Apple and make a law forcing Apple to scan the images and find any instance of that person on any iPhone under the Government’s jurisdiction.
Once Apple has chosen law to apply this technique to, it can be applied to any use case by any Government anywhere with Apple having a choice to comply or not do business in the country. The only way to avoid this is to protect private citizens and our devices from being scanned without our permission.
In this week’s newsletter, we have stories that cover this issue, including links to Apple’s justifications and to opponents’ reactions. On this issue, I am not with Apple.
The lead section this week highlights the intention of Circle to seek the status of a Bank. Axios explains how that may be a path to USDC (a stable crypto coin) becoming a backer of the US digital dollar. This would be the private currency that we discussed in last week’s newsletter. Accompanying it I link to a piece by Kevin Werbach reminding us all that technology is created by humans and typically embeds the goals of its creators in its code, hence is not neutral. Kevin is right. And Ezra Klein explains how the Senate does not understand the technology that it sought to regulate as part of the infrastructure bill - Crypto.
This is why rights are so important when tech seeks to impinge on them. More in this week’s video.