Apple to Scan iPhone Images – Spotlight #393

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s August 16th. Donations made here for earthquake relief efforts in Haiti are being shared by 17 organizations including Doctors Without Borders and World Central Kitchen.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,046 words — about a 4 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:That’s not a slippery slope; that’s a fully built system just waiting for external pressure to make the slightest change.” — Electronic Frontier Foundation statement regarding Apple’s announcement about about a new plan to scan iPhones and other devices it makes. Scroll down to read more about this week’s “Spotlight Explainer” topic.

a) As politicians and pundits debate vaccine passports, the market has spoken. Etsy sellers are doing well with homemade vaccine cardholders. One leather shop sold 10,000 in three months. (Morning Brew)

b) Industry consolidation continues throughout digital marketing with Newfold Digital’s acquisition of search engine optimization software maker Yoast. Newfold already owns Network Solutions, Register.com and other big names. 

Separately, NortonLifeLock and virus software maker Avast merged in an $8.1 billion dollar deal. NLL announced last December that they had purchased virus software company Avira. 

Still more acquisition news: Fearing regulatory approval problems, DoorDash ended talks to acquire Instacart, according to an exclusive in The Information.

c) Zoom announced “Focus Mode,” a webinar-like setting that allows teachers to see all students, but students to only see their teacher. The Verge has coverage.

3. Search Engine News — Google Provides A Search Audit Framework

Google has provided website owners with a workflow to “evaluate website health and identify pain points, debug, and continuously monitor performance.” The comprehensive tool  allows organizations to consider the new user experience optimization that Google is mandating, err, recommending, for sites.

These are part of the secret algorithms that Google uses to rank pages for different queries. In typical Google fashion, you’ll need a developer and a search marketer to get through the workflow. There are specialists in either discipline who understand enough of the other side to muddle through, but this is a highly technical overview complete with report templates and guides. 

If that person in your organization isn’t you, send them this brand-new process that Google published last week.

 4. Spotlight Explainer — Apple to Scan iPhone and Other Devices

Apple’s foray as Privacy Champion lasted as long as it took them to fling regulatory mud on Facebook before announcing that iOS 15 will automatically scan iPhone, Mac, and iPad devices looking for child pornography images.

Yes, society needs to do more to stop people from viewing or collecting child pornography. 

No, Apple is not the organization that should be doing this and certainly not this way.

What Apple’s announcement says: “Instead of scanning images in the cloud, the system performs on-device matching using a database of known CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) image hashes provided by … child safety organizations.” Read the whole announcement here.

What critics say: The technology can be used to scan any image on a user’s phone. And Apple devices are used around the world, including places where authoritarian governments can easily co-opt Apple or the technology for surveillance or other nefarious purposes.

Other complaints: How long before other device makers do this and providers prohibit companies that don’t? And when and where does the category get expanded to terrorism or censorship, asks the Open Privacy Research Society.

Still another: “Apple sells iPhones without FaceTime in Saudi Arabia, because local regulation prohibits encrypted phone calls … What happens when local regulations in Saudi Arabia mandate that messages be scanned not for child sexual abuse, but for homosexuality or for offenses against the monarchy?” writes Dr. Nadim Kobeissi.

Scope creep has started: Three weeks ago, tech companies Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter announced the expansion of an organization tracking violent extremism online called the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism. It’s a very worthy organization too, but the machine-readable data those organizations contribute without external oversight is identical in nature to the techniques Apple is using to scan iPhones.

Learn more: The Apple Privacy Letter project is here.

 5. Debunked — Snopes Plagiarized, Fact Checks Still Valid

Fact-checking organization Snopes announced last week that one of its co-founders had plagiarized responses to news articles. 

In this era of misinformation and deliberate disinformation, it’s important for you to know that the fact checks themselves remain true. The company says that its investigation has turned up more than fifty instances of executive David Mikkelson using appropriated material from sources like ABC News and The Associated Press.

6. Following Up — Amazon’s New Resale Program

We told you two months ago about an expose showing that an Amazon warehouse in Scotland was destroying hundreds of thousands of salable items. Amazon UK has launched the Grade and Resell program to resell items that have been returned.

7. Protip — FaceTime Opens To Android, Windows

Apple users can now include Android or Windows users on FaceTime calls (although apparently not in Saudi Arabia). 

The workaround is web-based. There’s no Android FaceTime app. Instead, an Apple user can send Android and Windows users a link that they can open in a browser.

8. Screening Room — Rapunzel Uses Prime

Amazon Prime envisions Rapunzel using their service for a fast escape — complete with backing track by Nicki Minaj & Beyoncé.

9. Science Fiction World — OpenAI Codex

We’ve written about different brainstorming and creative functions from massive language models like OpenAI’s GPT-3. And we’ve written about how some companies (yes, Google, I mean you) have had trouble balancing the line between in-house ethics professionals and scientists.

OpenAI just released this video of someone typing instructions to a new GPT-3 app that creates code. It’s remarkable and a little scary. 

No one will mistake the game that the program writes from natural language as the latest PlayStation hit, but it was done in minutes without sound and including typos.  And it was done with someone typing instructions like this: “Animate the rocketship horizontally, bouncing off the left/right walls.”

 10. Coffee Break — Scroll Through History, Stop When Interested

You’re going to love the rabbit holes you find. Using Wikipedia as a base, a slick interface, and links to video and other media, Histography takes you time traveling.

Check it out here and then set aside some time to go exploring.

11. Sign of the Times (legit, non-doctored image)

read how it happened

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