Hello friends and welcome back to Week in review.
Last week we delved into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week we’re talking about something a little more impactful for the current state of the web – Apple’s NeuralHash Kerfuffle.
If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it in your inbox from the Newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny
the big thing
Over the past month, Apple has done something that it has generally excelled in avoiding – the company made a seemingly completely informal mistake.
In early August – seemingly out of nowhere ** – the company announced it would roll out a technology called NeuralHash by the end of the year, which would actively scan the libraries of all iCloud Photos users and look for image hashes that match known images of material for the sexual abuse of children (CSAM). For obvious reasons, scanning could not be disabled on the device.
This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed the announcement on its own.
Researchers and stakeholders received almost one-sided negative feedback for the effort and expressed concerns that it could create new channels of abuse for actors such as governments to spot information on the device that they deemed offensive. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent article, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it has collected more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. In addition, nearly 100 political and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, called on Apple to abandon plans to introduce the technology. “
(The announcement has reportedly sparked some controversy within Apple as well.)
The problem, of course, wasn’t that Apple was looking for ways to prevent the spread of CSAM while making as few concessions as possible on device security. The problem was that Apple unilaterally made a massive decision that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors to similar solutions), without any outside public input about possible implications or necessary safeguards.
In short, last month researchers found that Apple’s NeuralHash was not as dense as hoped, and the company announced on Friday that it was delaying its rollout “to take additional time to gather input in the coming months and make improvements before they are released ”. critically important child safety functions. “
After spending several years in the tech media, I want to say that the only reason to post news on a Friday morning before a long weekend is to make sure the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible , and it’s clear why she’d want to do that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams were not adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the problem they were dealing with. This isn’t really a blow to the Apple team building this up so much, but rather a blow to Apple trying to resolve an issue like this in the Apple Park vacuum while sticking to the annual iOS release schedule.
Apple is increasingly trying to make privacy a major selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of that productization, it has pushed the development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy that its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud + and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-conscious features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
Of course, you can’t get public opinion for every product update, but perhaps far-reaching and groundbreaking security and privacy features should be treated a little differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of commitment to research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash has been quite egregious and certainly raises some questions as to whether the company fully respects the impact of its decisions for iOS on the broader internet.
Delaying the introduction of the feature is a good thing, but let’s all hope you will take this time to reflect further.
** While the announcement came as a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature didn’t come out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely thought that the winds of global tech regulation in some of its largest markets could turn towards an outright ban on some encryption methods.
Back in October 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr, together with representatives from Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan, signed a letter expressing major concerns about how the implementation of encryption technologies “poses significant public security challenges including “for very vulnerable members of our societies such as sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively challenged technology industry companies to get creative in how to approach this problem.
Here are the TechCrunch news that caught my eye this week:
LinkedIn kills stories
You might be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even has a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you already knew they were testing Stories, you probably won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t work out as well . The company announced this week that it will suspend functionality at the end of the month. REST IN PEACE.
FAA Establishes Virgin Galactic Over Questions About Branson Flight
While Richard Branson’s trip into space seemed to be going smoothly last month, the FAA has some questions about why the flight appeared unexpectedly so far from the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from any further launches until they figure out what the deal is.
Apple is buying a classic music streaming service
While Spotify is making news every month or two for spending a huge amount buying a popular podcast, Apple seems to have its eye on another market for Apple Music and this week is announcing that it will be the classic music streaming service Bring Primephonic to the Apple Music team.
TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It’s no big secret that ByteDance and Facebook have sometimes tried to copy each other’s success, but many probably didn’t expect TikTok’s parent company to break into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico, which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.
Twitter is testing an anti-abuse “safety mode”
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can make the experience terrible for others too, a realization that Twitter seems to have taken very slowly. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing with a new “security mode” that combines algorithmic intelligence with new user input.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch Subscription Service this week:
Our favorite startups from YC Demo Day, part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth virtual demo day today, unveiling the first half of its nearly 400 group of companies. The presentation, YC’s largest to date, offers a snapshot of where the innovation is headed, from not so simple algae to a Clearco for creative people … “
“… Yesterday the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that caught our eye. We even podcast about it! Today we’re going to do everything all over again. Here is our full list of all the startups featured on the record today, and below you will find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of the second day. The ones who made us, as people scouring a few hundred pitches a day, “oh wait, what’s that?”
All the reasons why you should adopt a credit card
“… if your company has somehow not yet managed to bring a debit or credit card onto the market, we have good news: It is easier than ever and there is real money to be made. You just need to know that in this case you will have a lot of competition and that actual customer usage will likely depend on how reliable your service is and how valuable the rewards you are offering your most active users … “
Thanks for reading. If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it in your inbox from the Newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny