Apple’s dangerous path – TechCrunch

Good morning, friends! Welcome back to Week in Review.
We explored the bizarre workings of the NFT market last week. We're going to be talking about something a bit more important regarding the current state the web Apples NeuralHash kerfuffle.

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The big thing

Apple has been doing an extraordinary job of avoiding an error that seemed completely unforced in the last month.

The company announced in August that they were rolling out a new technology called NeuralHash. This scans all iCloud Photos users and seeks out images that match known child sexual abuse material (CSAM) hashes. The on-device scanning cannot be turned off, for obvious reasons.

Apple made the announcement on its own, and it was not coordinated by other tech giants.

Researchers and advocacy groups almost unambiguously negative feedback about the effort. This raises concerns that governments could use this information to find on-device data that they consider objectionable. Zach, my colleague, noted that the Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed this week that it had gathered more than 25,000 signatures of consumers. Nearly 100 rights and policy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union called on Apple not to release the technology.

(The Apple announcement reportedly caused some controversy within the company.

Apple was not looking to prevent the spread of CSAM, but rather to make as few security concessions as possible. Apple unilaterally made a huge decision that would impact billions of customers, while likely pushing other companies towards similar solutions. This was without any external input from the public about potential ramifications and necessary safeguards.

To make a long story short, Apples NeuralHash was not as tight as researchers had hoped. The company announced Friday that it would delay the rollout in order to gather input and improve the safety features for children.

After many years working in tech media, I can tell you that it is not a good idea to announce news on Friday morning before a long weekend. It is important that announcements are read and understood by as few people possible. This is a huge embarrassment to Apple. As with any delayed rollout, it's a sign that their internal team wasnt sufficiently prepared and didn't have the ideological diversity necessary to understand the problem they were dealing with. This is not a dig at Apple's team for building this, but rather a dig at Apple trying to solve an issue like this within the Apple Park vacuum while still adhering to its annual iOS releases schedule.

Apple is increasingly making privacy a selling point for its iOS ecosystem. As a result, privacy-centric features are being developed towards the same secrecy as surface-level design changes. Apple's June announcement of iCloud+ raised eyebrows when it revealed that certain privacy-centric features would be only available to iPhone users who subscribed to additional services.

Although you can't get public opinion for every product release, it is possible to treat wide-ranging privacy and security features differently than other product updates. Apple's inability to engage with advocacy and research groups on NeuralHash is quite egregious. It raises questions about how their decisions for iOS will affect the wider internet.

It is a positive thing to delay the rollout of features, but let's all hope that they reflect more broadly.

Although the announcement was unexpected, Apple's development of this feature didn't happen by accident. The top Apple executives likely felt that global tech regulation was shifting toward bans on certain encryption methods in its largest markets.

In October 2020, the then-US AG Bill Barr signed a letter expressing concern about encryption tech's potential danger to public safety. This letter was signed by representatives from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Other things

These are TechCrunch news stories which caught my attention this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories

Although it may surprise you to learn that LinkedIn had a Stories-like product available on their platform, if you already knew that Stories was being tested, you won't be surprised to find out that it didn't work out. This week, the company announced that the feature would be removed at the end the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight

Although everything went smoothly for Richard Branson's trip to space last month it was not without complications. The FAA is asking questions about why the flight took a sudden turn off the approved route. The FAA has blocked further launches of the company until they discover the details.

Apple purchases a streaming music service for classical music

Spotify is a news story every month for spending huge amounts to acquire a podcast. Apple, however, seems to be looking at a different market for Apple Music. They announced this week that they will bring Primephonic, a classical music streaming service, onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent buys VR startup

Although it is not a secret that ByteDance has tried to emulate Facebook's success at times, many people probably didn't expect TikToks parent to enter the virtual reality world. Pico, a startup that makes VR headsets for consumers in China, and enterprise VR products to North American customers, was bought by a Chinese company.

Twitter tests an Anti-Abuse Safety Mode

Twitter can be a great product, but the same features that make it so cool for some people can make it terrible for others. This realization has been slow for Twitter. Twitter's latest solution is to give users more control. Twitter is currently testing a new safety mode that combines algorithmic intelligence and user inputs.

Additional things

These are some of my favourite reads from the Extra Crunch subscription service this Week:

Part 1: Our top startups from YCs Demo Day

Today, Y Combinator launched its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day. It revealed the first half of nearly 400 companies in its batch. This presentation, the largest yet by YC, gives a glimpse into where innovation is headed, from simple seaweed to a Clearco that's for creators.

Part 2

Yesterday TechCrunch covered the first half and the startups that made one-minute pitches. Even a podcast was made about it. Today we are doing it again. Below is a complete list of all startups who presented today. Also, below are our votes for Day Two's best Y Combinator pitches. These were the ones that made us stop and think, even though we had to go through hundreds of pitches per day.

All the reasons you should open a credit card

If your company has not yet launched a debit or credit account, there is good news. It's easy and actually profitable. Be aware that there is plenty of competition if you launch a debit or credit card. The actual customer usage will depend on how sticky and valuable your rewards program is to your most active customers.

Thank you for reading. If you're reading this on TechCrunch, this can be delivered to your inbox via the newsletter page. Follow me @lucasmtny on Twitter.

Lucas Matney