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Apple plans to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images | Apple

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Apple will scan photo libraries stored on iPhones in the US for known images of child sexual abuse, the company says, drawing praise from child protection groups but crossing a line that privacy campaigners warn could have dangerous ramifications. The company will also examine the contents of end-to-end encrypted messages for the first time.

Apple’s tool, called neuralMatch, will scan images before they are uploaded to the company’s iCloud Photos online storage, comparing them against a database of known child abuse imagery. If a strong enough match is flagged, then Apple staff will be able to manually review the reported images, and, if child abuse is confirmed, the user’s account will be disabled and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) notified.

Since the tool only looks for images that are already in NCMEC’s database, parents taking photos of a child in the bath, for example, apparently need not worry. But researchers worry the matching tool – which does not “see” images, just mathematical fingerprints that represent them – could be put to different purposes.

Matthew Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University, warned that the system could theoretically be used to frame innocent people by sending them seemingly innocuous images designed to trigger matches for child abuse images. “Researchers have been able to do this pretty easily,” he said of the ability to trick such systems.

Other abuses could include government surveillance of dissidents or protesters. “What happens when the Chinese government says: ‘Here is a list of files that we want you to scan for,’” Green asked. “Does Apple say no? I hope they say no, but their technology won’t say no.”

Tech companies including Microsoft, Google and Facebook have for years been sharing digital fingerprints of known child sexual abuse images. Apple has used those to scan user files stored in its iCloud service for child abuse images. But the decision to move such scanning on-device is unprecedented among major technology companies.

Alongside the neuralMatch technology, Apple plans to scan users’ encrypted messages as they are sent and received. An AI-based tool will attempt to automatically identify sexually explicit images, enabling parents to turn on automatic filters for their children’s inboxes. That system, which is purely aimed at providing tools to “warn children and their parents when receiving or sending sexually explicit photos”, will not result in sexually explicit images being sent to Apple or reported to the authorities. But parents will be able to be notified if their child decides to send or receive sexually explicit photos.

Apple has been under government pressure for years to allow for increased surveillance of encrypted data. Coming up with the new security measures required Apple to perform a delicate balancing act between cracking down on the exploitation of children while keeping its high-profile commitment to protecting the privacy of its users.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties pioneer, called Apple’s compromise on privacy protections “a shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company’s leadership in privacy and security”.

The computer scientist who more than a decade ago invented PhotoDNA, the technology used by law enforcement to identify child abuse images online, acknowledged the potential for abuse of Apple’s system but said it was far outweighed by the imperative of tackling child sexual abuse.

“Is it possible? Of course. But is it something that I’m concerned about? No,” said Hany Farid, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who argued that plenty of other programs designed to secure devices from various threats had not been affected by “this type of mission creep”. For example, WhatsApp provides users with end-to-end encryption to protect their privacy but also employs a system for detecting malware and warning users not to click on harmful links.

Apple was one of the first major companies to embrace end-to-end encryption, in which messages are scrambled so that only their senders and recipients can read them. Law enforcement has long pressed the company for access to that information. Apple said the latest changes would roll out this year as part of updates to its operating software for iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches.

“Apple’s expanded protection for children is a gamechanger,” said John Clark, the president and chief executive of the NCMEC. “With so many people using Apple products, these new safety measures have lifesaving potential for children.”

Apple denied that the changes amounted to a backdoor that degraded its encryption. It said they were carefully considered innovations that did not disturb user privacy but rather protected it.

“At Apple, our goal is to create technology that empowers people and enriches their lives – while helping them stay safe,” the company said in a post announcing the new features. “We want to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

“This program is ambitious, and protecting children is an important responsibility. These efforts will evolve and expand over time.”

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.



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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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