PRIVACY: We built a system like Apple’s to flag child sexual abuse material — and concluded the tech was dangerous.
Knowledgeable observers argued a system like ours was far from feasible. After many false starts, we built a working prototype. But we encountered a glaring problem.
Our system could be easily repurposed for surveillance and censorship. The design wasn’t restricted to a specific category of content; a service could simply swap in any content-matching database, and the person using that service would be none the wiser.
A foreign government could, for example, compel a service to out people sharing disfavored political speech. That’s no hypothetical: WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app, already uses content matching to identify dissident material. India enacted rules this year that could require pre-screening content critical of government policy. Russia recently fined Google, Facebook and Twitter for not removing pro-democracy protest materials.
We spotted other shortcomings. The content-matching process could have false positives, and malicious users could game the system to subject innocent users to scrutiny.
Apple threw away years of carefully cultivated privacy reputation for this.
h/t Stephen Green
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