A backlash over Apple’s move to scan U.S. customer phones and computers for child sex abuse images has grown to include employees speaking out internally, a notable turn in a company famed for its secretive culture, as well as provoking intensified protests from leading technology policy groups.
Apple employees have flooded an Apple internal Slack channel with more than 800 messages on the plan announced a week ago, workers who asked not to be identified told Reuters.
Many expressed worries that the feature could be exploited by repressive governments looking to find other material for censorship or arrests, according to workers who saw the days-long thread.
Past security changes at Apple have also prompted concern among employees, but the volume and duration of the new debate is surprising, the workers said. Some posters worried that Apple is damaging its leading reputation for protecting privacy.
Though coming mainly from employees outside of lead security and privacy roles, the pushback marks a shift for a company where a strict code of secrecy around new products colors other aspects of the corporate culture.
Slack rolled out a few years ago and has been more widely adopted by teams at Apple during the pandemic, two employees said. As workers used the app to maintain social ties during the work-from-home era by sharing recipes and other light-hearted content, more serious discussions have also taken root.
In the Slack thread devoted to the photo-scanning feature, some employees have pushed back against criticism, while others said Slack wasn’t the proper forum for such discussions.
Core security employees did not appear to be major complainants in the posts, and some of them said that they thought Apple’s solution was a reasonable response to pressure to crack down on illegal material.
Other employees said they hoped that the scanning is a step toward fully encrypting iCloud for customers who want it, which would reverse Apple’s direction on the issue a second time.