Apple, OnlyFans both backtrack on eliminating online porn

By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — So often when you want to make progress in a certain area of life, it’s one step forward, two steps back.

Here’s a case of two steps back — both literally and virtually.

The first step: Apple, the software and consumer products giant, announced in September that it was putting on pause a feature that was designed to track the appearance of child pornography on iPhones.

The second step: OnlyFans, whose chief stock in trade is hosting an array of explicit sexual images of women who make money by posting them, backtracked on a pledge made just days before that it was getting out of the porn business.

Let’s take one walk back at a time. First, Apple.

In truth, Apple is correct in recognizing the size of the child pornography problem in society — and on society’s mobile devices, iPhones included.

An Apple logo is seen in this illustration photo. (CNS photo/Stephane Mahe, Reuters)

Apple intended to introduce its anti-child sexual abuse material system later this year when it rolled out its new iOS 15 phones.

But in the lead-up to that rollout, some Apple customers, along with others, pushed back against it, saying such a feature could lead to surveillance of those phones’ users.

Apple blinked.

“Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of child sexual abuse material,” Apple said in a Sept. 3 statement.

“Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features,” Apple said.

Apple had initially chosen to rely on using the consumer’s own iPhone to flag child porn being uploaded to Apple’s iCloud. But that’s what raised the hackles of customers and privacy advocates alike, saying it was far too easy for customers to be spied upon, itself a potent point.

Apple also could scan its own servers for child sexual abuse material.

Apple’s statement said its proposal doesn’t involve scanning millions of iPhones for child porn, but that the technology it intended to use is focused on matching an uploaded photo to iCloud with known images of child sexual abuse material already indexed in a national database.

According to PC magazine, if the system detects an iCloud Photos account with at least 30 suspected child sexual abuse images stored, Apple will then investigate, which could lead to the company notifying the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Since Apple said its reconsideration will take “months,” there is no telling what the final verdict will be — or if it can even be considered a final verdict.

In the OnlyFans matter, the owners of the privately held company announced in mid-August the company was going to stop adding sexually explicit content from its “creators.” That led to an outcry from both creators and customers. OnlyFans reversed field within days to say that it would continue as it had before.

OnlyFans made its debut on the “Dirty Dozen” list of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation this year for its content and its business practices, according to Lina Nealon, the center’s director of corporate and strategic initiatives.

After the initial announcement, “we were thrilled. We weren’t convinced that it would solve all the problems, not by a long shot, but we did consider it a victory,” Nealon told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 22 phone interview.

Nealon said the two principal owners of OnlyFans, both of whom have long been involved in the pornography industry, have been looking for investors. Finding few takers, they announced the shift in policy. With the outcry from their audience, they changed course, but “the backflip didn’t help them in any regard,” she added.

OnlyFans makes its money by taking 20% of what its “creators” rake in, according to Nealon, and adds a pyramid scheme” offer of 5% to anyone who recruits a new creator.

Fans sign up to subscribe, paying $4-$50 a month to unlock the content that the creator provides. The content, Nealon said, is “largely pornography and so they’re profiting off pornography.”

What’s more, there is “evidence of child sexual abuse material, trafficking, nonconsensually shared pornography ” — colloquially known as “revenge porn,” images and photos taken or posted without someone’s consent, she added.

On “john boards” — chat groups of prostitute customers — “there is a lot of traffic about OnlyFans” and how it can be used to “promote in-person prostitution,” Nealon said.

OnlyFans accepts most of the credit cards you may have in your wallet. Because of this, Nealon told CNS, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is working both with law enforcement and the credit card companies to choke off both the site’s fan base and its revenue stream.

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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