Apple paid millions to use Shutterstock images in its AI development — but no one knows what for

AI apps on screen
(Image credit: Getty / NJurPhoto)

With WWDC 2024 well on the way at this point, there’s one word on everyone’s mind — AI, and what Apple is going to do with it. 

There’s already been some movement within the company as hundreds of ex-Apple Car staff members have been shifted to the Artificial Intelligence division, along with all the neural engine improvements in the M3 chips. Now, there’s more evidence that Apple is upping its AI investment, as it looks like the firm has spent millions of dollars on images and videos from the internet's stock photo library, Shutterstock.

According to Reuters, Apple (along with competitors like Meta, Google, and Amazon) has spent anywhere from $25 million to $50 million to use Shutterstock’s library for AI training purposes. Reuters also reports that “In the months after ChatGPT debuted in late 2022,” all four companies signed deals “ to use hundreds of millions of images, videos, and music files in its library for training.” What Apple is going to do with its newfound wealth of content, however, is only known to Apple itself.

What kind of artificial intelligence could Apple make?

The most obvious thing that springs to mind is generative AI, like ChatGPT or Midjourney. Apple could use this new litany of content from Shutterstock to train an AI model that could allow Apple users to make images, using so-called ‘ethically sourced’ images and videos. There have been some rumors that Apple is looking to create generative AI technology, so this isn’t too much of a stretch.

The other option is using the images to train its content filters, such as a child protection layer. The idea would be to teach the AI what’s suitable and what isn’t for children, so that offending images and videos can be filtered out so they never reach the tender eyes of the young, building on its iOS 17 Communication Safety feature. 

Whatever Apple is going to do with its new library of images, it’s another piece of evidence that Apple is going all in on AI with the latest generation of best iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads. We won’t know more until WWDC and iOS 18, of course, but until then we can only guess what Apple's AI intent is going to be.

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Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.