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Apple can't run CSAM checks on devices with iCloud Photos turned off

How to remove location data from photos on your iPhone
How to remove location data from photos on your iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple's new on-device CSAM checks are only run on photos that are to be uploaded to iCloud Photos.
  • Photos aren't checked on devices with iCloud Photos disabled.
  • Apple also confirmed that it cannot check photos that are inside iCloud backups

Apple announced new on-device CSAM detection techniques yesterday as part of its new Child Safety measures, and there has been a lot of confusion over what the feature can and cannot do. Contrary to what some people believe, Apple cannot check images when users have iCloud Photos disabled.

Apple's confirmation of the new CSAM change did attempt to make this clear, but perhaps didn't make as good a job of it as it could. With millions upon millions of iPhone users around the world, it's to be expected that some could be confused.

Using another technology called threshold secret sharing, the system ensures the contents of the safety vouchers cannot be interpreted by Apple unless the iCloud Photos account crosses a threshold of known CSAM content. The threshold is set to provide an extremely high level of accuracy and ensures less than a one in one trillion chance per year of incorrectly flagging a given account.

The key part there is the iCloud Photos bit because CSAM checks will only be carried out on devices that have that feature enabled. Any device with it disabled will not have its images checked. That's also a fact that MacRumors had confirmed, too.

Something else that's been confirmed — Apple can't delve into iCloud backups and check the images that are stored there, either. That means the only time Apple will run CSAM checks on photos is when it's getting ready to upload them to iCloud Photos.

So yeah, there you go.

Looking for another source of backups that are a little less cloud-based? Check out this collection of the best external hard drives for things like Time Machine!

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

4 Comments
  • So I guess we'll start using Google Photos instead?
  • Google has been using hashing to identify CSAM images since 2008, and nearly all cloud services already do this. :)
  • I wonder about Photostream.
  • Today I learned the P in PSA stands for Paedophile. Tech journalists seem woefully under informed on the horrific scale of child sexual abuse all over the world, including the USA. Facebook has found over 4.5 million individuals uploading CSAM to their website, imagine how many would still be at large if tech bros gave PSAs in the same way they are for Apple?