Apple is temporarily hitting the pause button on its controversial plans to screen users’ devices for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) after receiving sustained blowback over worries that the tool could be weaponized for mass surveillance and erode the privacy of users.
“Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features,” the iPhone maker said in a statement on its website.
The changes were originally slated to go live with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey later this year.
In August, Apple detailed several new features intended to help limit the spread of CSAM on its platform, including scanning users’ iCloud Photos libraries for illicit content, Communication Safety in Messages app to warn children and their parents when receiving or sending sexually explicit photos, and expanded guidance in Siri and Search when users try to perform searches for CSAM-related topics.
The so-called NeuralHash technology would have worked by matching photos on users’ iPhones, iPads, and Macs just before they are uploaded to iCloud Photos against a database of known child sexual abuse imagery maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) without having to possess the images or glean their contents. iCloud accounts that crossed a set threshold of 30 matching hashes would then be manually reviewed, have their profiles disabled, and reported to law enforcement.
The measures aimed to strike a compromise between protecting customers’ privacy and meeting growing demands from government agencies in investigations pertaining to terrorism and child pornography — and by extension, offer a solution to the so-called “going dark” problem of criminals taking advantage of encryption protections to cloak their contraband activities.
However, the proposals were met with near-instantaneous backlash, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calling out the tech giant for attempting to create an on-device surveillance system, adding “a thoroughly documented, carefully thought-out, and narrowly-scoped backdoor is still a backdoor.”
But in an email circulated internally at Apple, child safety campaigners were found dismissing the complaints of privacy activists and security researchers as the “screeching voice of the minority.”
Apple has since stepped in to assuage potential concerns arising out of unintended consequences, pushing back against the possibility that the system could be used to detect other forms of photos at the request of authoritarian governments. “Let us be clear, this technology is limited to detecting CSAM stored in iCloud and we will not accede to any government’s request to expand it,” the company said.
Still, it did nothing to allay fears that the client-side scanning could amount to troubling invasions of privacy and that it could be expanded to further abuses, and provide a blueprint for breaking end-to-end encryption. It also didn’t help that researchers were able to create “hash collisions” — aka false positives — by reverse-engineering the algorithm, leading to a scenario where two completely different images generated the same hash value, thus effectively tricking the system into thinking the images were the same when they’re not.
“My suggestions to Apple: (1) talk to the technical and policy communities before you do whatever you’re going to do. Talk to the general public as well. This isn’t a fancy new Touch Bar: it’s a privacy compromise that affects 1 billion users,” Johns Hopkins professor and security researcher Matthew D. Green tweeted.
“Be clear about why you’re scanning and what you’re scanning. Going from scanning nothing (but email attachments) to scanning everyone’s private photo library was an enormous delta. You need to justify escalations like this,” Green added.
Use the new Google Illustrations tool to create a custom Gmail profile picture – XDA Developers
If you use any of Google’s services, which we’re pretty sure most if not all of you do, you would be aware of the small avatar that’s displayed next to your name on Google’s homepage and other services. This is also the avatar that shows up next to your name when you email someone. It probably shows an old profile picture for most people that they set up back when Google+ was still a thing. But Google wants you to change it, and the company has released a new Illustrations tool to help you create a custom Gmail profile picture.
As per a recent report from 9to5Google, the Google Illustration tool is baked into the dialog box that appears when you select the option to change your profile picture in the Gmail app. It sits along with the options to upload a new image from your computer, choose an existing photo from Google Photos, or click a photo from your camera. As of now, the feature is rolling out on Gmail for Android, and you can try it out by tapping the avatar icon on the top right corner of the app.
You will then have to select the Illustrations tab to see hundreds of illustrations that you can use as your profile picture. This is a helpful feature for those who do not wish to reveal their identity online or make their photographs public. If you have privacy concerns with uploading your picture online but do not wish to see just your initials as your avatar, you should try out the Google Illustrations tool right away.
The avatar you set up will be used across all of Google’s services like Gmail, Drive, YouTube, Contacts, etc. If you want to look for illustrations related to a specific topic, you can search using relevant keywords. You can even customize the illustrations and switch out the background color to something that you prefer. In the coming months, Google plans to expand support for the Illustrations tool to other apps and iOS devices.
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Alberta doctors raise alarm on specialist staff shortages in intensive care wards – Saanich News
The Alberta Medical Association says the province’s high COVID-19 numbers are behind a desperate shortage of specialized staff to care for critical care patients.
“The demand for (intensive care unit) nurses is currently so high that we need to increase the number of patients assigned to each nurse,” the medical association said in a public letter Monday.
“This reduction in staffing ratio is well below our normal standard of care. This will jeopardize the quality of ICU care that we are able to provide.”
The letter was signed by members of the group’s intensive care section.
Alberta’s hospitals and intensive care wards are overwhelmed by critical care patients, most of them stricken with COVID-19. The overwhelming majority are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Alberta Health Services has been briefing doctors on criteria to use should the health system collapse and they have to make on-the-spot decisions on who gets life-saving care.
Last week, Dr. Paul Parks, the medical association’s head of emergency medicine, said the staffing shortage is affecting care in other ways. Parks said some critical care patients are not being put on available ventilators because there aren’t enough nurses to monitor them.
Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says while typical ICU care is one nurse per patient, an alternative model, known as a hub, is being used to adapt to the pandemic while ensuring care is delivered.
Each hub includes one or two trained intensive care nurses and two to four registered nurses.
“This model partners registered nurses from other areas with existing trained ICU (nurses) to expand the availability of the critical-care nursing skill set to more patients,” said Williamson in an email.
“ICU patients are never cared for by nurses alone. Whole teams work with nurses in ICU, including respiratory therapists and many others. “
In recent weeks, the province has scrambled to create more ad hoc intensive care beds, effectively more than doubling the normal total of 173 to accommodate 312 patients currently receiving critical care.
Staff have been reassigned, forcing mass cancellations of surgeries, including cancer procedures.
Alberta has asked the federal government for help, and the Canadian Armed Forces has said it will respond with eight more intensive care nurses and air transport to take critically ill patients to other provinces.
Almost two weeks ago, Alberta reintroduced gathering restrictions and brought in proof of vaccination requirements for entry to restaurants, bars, casinos, concerts and gyms to try to reduce spread of the virus.
Daily case counts remain well over one thousand and a growing number of doctors and infectious disease specialists are calling for a “firebreak” lockdown, which would include a shutdown of schools, businesses and other activities.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in a weekend radio interview, rejected a lockdown. He said it would make “no sense for the 80 per cent of the population that is vaccinated” and who are much less likely to transmit the disease and be hospitalized.
Alberta has lagged behind other provinces in vaccination. Kenney and his United Conservative government have been trying to persuade more people to get their shots by offering $1-million prize draws, other gifts and, more recently, $100 debit cards.
About 73 per cent of eligible Albertans, those 12 and over, are fully vaccinated, while 82 per cent have had at least one shot.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it’s time to partner with community groups and health-care professionals to go door to door and help those who are not vaccinated due to health or work concerns or a language barrier.
Those groups could be “having conversations and offering Alberta vaccines right there on people’s doorsteps,” Notley said in Calgary.
—Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
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