Apple will soon be rolling out its promised child safety features in the Messages app for users in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. The announcement comes four months after the features’ initial launch in the US on the iOS, iPad, and macOS devices.
To make communicating with Messages safer for Apple’s youngest users in the countries getting the rollout, it will start using machine learning to scan messages sent to and from an Apple device, looking for nudity to blur. Because scanning is done on-device, meaning the images are analyzed by the phone rather than in the Cloud, end-to-end encryption is not compromised.
“Messages analyses image attachments and determines if a photo contains nudity, while maintaining the end-to-end encryption of the messages,” Apple said in a statement. “The feature is designed so that no indication of the detection of nudity ever leaves the device. Apple does not get access to the messages, and no notifications are sent to the parent or anyone else.”
Of course, parents would have to enable this feature on their child’s iPhones first.
If the setting for this feature is on and a child receives a nude photo, Messages blurs it, warns the child of sensitive content, and points them to resources supported by child safety groups. If the child is about to send nude photos, the feature flags the picture and encourages them not to send the image. They could also talk to an adult they trust using the “Message a Grown-Up” button.
Note that the AI does not scan photos your child keeps in their Photo Library.
There have been some changes to these features since they were initially reported in August last year. Originally parents were also alerted if their young child (a child under 13) sent or received images that contained nudity. Privacy advocates and critics quickly pointed out that doing this could out queer kids to their parents, which could expose them to harm.
Apple is also delaying the rollout of an AI component that can scan photos in iCloud and compare them to a child sexual abuse material (CSAM) database. The company has yet to announce the date of this component’s release.
How to enable Apple’s safety features
Parents/Carers/Guardians, you need to set up Apple’s Screen Time feature on your child’s phone first, which requires Family Sharing (If you haven’t done that already, go to the Set up Family Sharing help page for the steps).
Once you have Screen Time enabled and the communications safety features are already available in your country, please do the following:
- On your Apple device, open Settings.
- Choose Screen Time.
- Swipe down and choose your child’s device.
- Choose Communications Safety.
- Toggle Check for Sensitive Photo.
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