The aim is to help children and young people make better choices when it comes to receiving and sending sexually explicit images. It also allows parents and carers to play a more active role in the online interactions of their children and young people, while also combatting the spread of self-generated images and
Though originally announced in summer 2021 as part of a range of updates, the Communication Safety in Messages is only being released this year after facing controversy around design structures. Originally, parents and carers would be automatically alerted if a child under 13 sent or received sexually explicit images, but there were concerns around this exploiting user privacy and LGBTQ+ children being at risk of being outed.
Apple have removed the automatic alert and instead created an intervention system that allows the child to stop themselves from opening the image and reaching out for help if they need it. There are hopes this will aid in the effort to lessen self-generated images and CSAM from being received and sent by children and young people. They are also releasing a safer search function within Spotlight, Siri, and Safari to prompt users to signposts for help if they are performing searches for topics relating to child sexual abuse.
It is unclear when or how these updates will appear in the UK, and which help services would be referenced for UK users.
“Self-generated sexual imagery of children aged 7-10 years old has increased three-fold making it the fasted growing age group. In 2020 there were 8,000 instances. In 2021 there were 27,000 – a 235% increase. [Meanwhile] self-generated content of children aged 11-13 remains the biggest age group for this kind of material. In 2021, 147,900 reports contained self-generated material involving children aged between 11 and 13. This is a 167% increase [from 2020].”
It’s important to note that Apple will not have access to these images. All processing is done by on-device machine learning, and messages retain end-to-end encryption. This feature is due to be rolled out soon in the UK (as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), and has already been released in the US.