Apple’s dangerous path – TechCrunch
Hello friends and welcome back Review of the week.
Last week we delved into the really bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week we’re talking about something that’s having a bit more of an impact on the current state of the web – Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.
If you are reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny
the big thing
Over the past month, Apple has done something that it has generally done an exceptional job of avoiding – the company made what appeared to be an entirely unforced error.
In early August – seemingly out of nowhere ** – the company announced that by the end of the year it would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scans the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, looking for hashes. ‘images corresponding to known images of child pornography material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, scanning on the device could not be turned off.
This announcement was not coordinated with other big consumer tech giants, Apple pushed the announcement forward on its own.
Researchers and advocacy groups have had almost unilaterally negative feedback on the effort, raising concerns that it creates new channels of abuse for actors such as governments to detect information on the device they considered reprehensible. As my colleague Zack noted in a recent article, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week that it has amassed over 25,000 consumer signatures. On top of that, nearly 100 political and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have also called on Apple to drop its plans to roll out the technology.
(The announcement has also reportedly generated some controversy within Apple.)
The problem, of course, wasn’t that Apple was looking for ways to prevent the proliferation of CSAM while making the fewest possible concessions on device security. The problem was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and doing so without input from the outside public on the possible ramifications or necessary guarantees.
Long story short, over the past month, researchers found that Apple’s NeuralHash was not as tight as hoped, and the company said on Friday it was delaying the rollout “to take longer over the next few months. months to collect feedback and make improvements before posting. Critically important child safety features.
Having spent several years in tech media, I would say that the only reason to post news on a Friday morning before a long weekend is to make sure the ad gets read and seen by as few people as possible, and it is clear why they would like this. This is a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed deployment like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t sufficiently prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to assess the scale of the problem they were facing. were attacking each other. It’s not really a dig into the Apple team, but it’s a dig into Apple trying to fix an issue like this inside the void of Apple Park while still sticking to its schedule. iOS annual publication.
Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of that production, has pushed the development of privacy-centric features to the same secrecy as its ordering changes from. surface-level design. In June, Apple announced iCloud + and raised eyebrows when they shared that some new privacy-focused features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but maybe the far-reaching, pioneering security and privacy features should be treated a little differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty glaring and certainly raises questions about whether the company fully respects the way the choices it makes for iOS affect the internet. at large.
Delaying the rollout of the feature is good, but let’s all hope they take that time to think more broadly as well.
** While the announcement came as a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature didn’t completely come out of nowhere. Apple executives probably felt that the winds of global tech regulation could turn to outright banning certain encryption methods in some of its larger markets.
In October 2020, AG Bill Barr of the United States joined representatives from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan to sign a letter raising major concerns about how encryption technology implementations posed “significant challenges to public safety, especially to highly vulnerable members of our societies such as sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on companies in the tech industry to be creative in how they approach this problem.
Here is the TechCrunch news that particularly caught my attention this week:
LinkedIn kills stories
You might be shocked to learn that LinkedIn even had a Stories type product on their platform, but if you already knew that they were testing Stories, you probably won’t be as surprised to learn that the test n didn’t work too. good. The company announced this week that it will suspend the feature at the end of the month. TEAR.
FAA puts Virgin Galactic on the ground over Branson flight questions
While everything seemed to be going perfectly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA wonders why the flight seemed to unexpectedly deviate from the cleared road. The FAA is preventing the company from launching further launches until it finds out what the deal is.
Apple buys classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes the news every month or two for spending massive amounts of money on a popular podcast, Apple seems to have its eyes set on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they are integrating the streaming service. of Primephonic classical music to the Apple Music team. .
TikTok’s parent company acquires VR startup
It’s no big secret that ByteDance and Facebook have tried to copy each other at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to jump into the VR game. The Chinese company bought startup Pico, which makes consumer VR headsets for China and corporate VR products for North American customers.
Twitter is testing an anti-abuse “security mode”
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience horrible for others, an accomplishment that Twitter has apparently been very slow to achieve. Their latest fix is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing with a new “security mode” that combines algorithmic intelligence with new user input.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
Our Favorite YC Demo Day Startups, Part 1
“Y Combinator launched today its fourth virtual demo day, revealing the first half of its batch of nearly 400 companies. The presentation, YC’s largest to date, offers a glimpse of where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators…. ”
“… Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out. We even podcast about it! Today we are starting again. Here’s our full list of all the startups that were featured today, and below you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches from day two. The ones who, as people who sift through a few hundred sites a day, made us say, “Oh, wait, what is this?” ”
All the reasons why you should start a credit card
“… If your business hasn’t figured out how to launch a debit or credit card yet, we’ve got the good news – it’s easier than ever to do so and there is money to be made. Just be aware that if you do, you have a lot of competition and actual customer usage will likely depend on how loyal your service is and how valuable the rewards you provide to your most active users…. ”
Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny