Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Apple’s Dangerous Path – TechCrunch

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Hello friends and welcome to Week in review.

Last week, we dived into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that has a little more impact on the current state of the web: Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it delivered to your inbox from the newsletter pageand follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

Last month, Apple did something that it has generally exceptionally avoided: The company made what appeared to be a completely unforced error.

In early August, seemingly out of nowhere **, the company announced that by the end of the year it would launch a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, looking for image hashes that matched known images of material on child sexual abuse (MASI). For obvious reasons, the scan on the device could not be excluded.

This announcement was not coordinated with other big consumer tech giants, Apple went ahead with the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost one-sided negative comments about the effort, raising concerns that this could create new channels of abuse for actors such as governments to detect information on the device that they consider objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week that it had amassed more than 25,000 consumer signatures. On top of that, nearly 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called to Apple to abandon plans to implement the technology. “

(Then the ad reportedly generated some controversy within Apple).

The problem, of course, was not that Apple was looking for ways to prevent the proliferation of CSAM while making as few compromises on device security as possible. The problem was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive decision that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors toward similar solutions), and it was doing so without the involvement of the outside public on possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

To sum it up, over the past month, researchers found that Apple’s NeuralHash was not as tight as expected and the company announced on Friday that it was delaying the launch “to take more time in the coming months to gather information and make improvements sooner. to release them. Critically important child safety features. “

Having spent several years in tech media, I will say that the only reason to post news on a Friday morning before a long weekend is to make sure the ad is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear. why would I want that. It’s a huge embarrassment to Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the problem they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building, but rather a dig at Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while sticking to its annual iOS release schedule.

Illustration of key icon over cloud

Image credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple increasingly seeks to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem and, as a result of this productization, has pushed the development of privacy-focused features towards the same secrecy as its surface-level design changes. . In June, Apple announced iCloud + and gained attention when they shared that certain new privacy-focused features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

Obviously, you can’t tap into public opinion for every product update, but perhaps the pioneering and powerful security and privacy features should be treated a little differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with NeuralHash’s research and advocacy groups was quite egregious and certainly raises some questions as to whether the company fully respects how the decisions they make for iOS affect the internet in general.

Delaying the release of the feature is a good thing, but hopefully everyone takes that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** While the announcement came as a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature didn’t come completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation could be turning toward a total ban on some crypto methods in some of its largest markets.

In October 2020, US Attorney General Bill Barr joined representatives from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising significant concerns about how encryption technology implementations posed “significant challenges to public safety, including for 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.


other things

Here is the TechCrunch news that particularly caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills stories
It might surprise you to learn that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you already knew that they were testing Stories, you probably won’t be so surprised to learn that the test didn’t turn out too much. well. The company announced this week that they will suspend the show at the end of the month. BREAK.

FAA withdraws Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While everything seemed to go smoothly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions about why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the authorized route. The FAA is preventing the company from making any more launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes headlines every month or two for spending a massive amount on acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have its eyes set on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they will be bringing classical music streaming service Primephonic to the market. Apple Music equipment. .

TikTok’s parent company buys a virtual reality startup
It’s no big secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to get into the VR game. The Chinese company bought startup Pico, which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests anti-abuse ‘Safe Mode’
The same characteristics that make Twitter an incredibly great product for some users can also make the experience terrible for others, an understanding that Twitter has apparently been slow to make. Its latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing with a new “security mode” that combines algorithmic intelligence with new user input.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our Favorite YC Demo Day Startups, Part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth virtual demo day today, unveiling the first half of its batch of nearly 400 companies. The presentation, YC’s largest yet, offers a snapshot of where innovation is headed, from the not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators… “.

… Part 2
“… Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute launches that caught our eye. We even did a podcast about it! Today we do it again. Here’s our full list of all the startups that were featured on the registry today, and below you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator launches of the second day. The ones who, like people reviewing a few hundred releases a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what is this?’

All the reasons you should throw a credit card
“… If your company somehow hasn’t figured out how to launch a debit or credit card yet, we’ve got good news: it’s easier than ever to do so and real money can be made. Just keep in mind that if you do, you have a lot of competition and actual customer usage will probably depend on how rigid your service is and how valuable the rewards you offer to your most active users … ”.


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it delivered to your inbox from the newsletter pageand follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

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