Education Blog

Apple Will Likely See My Kid Sexting. It’s Time for a Serious Talk.

September 16, 2021

Apple announced it would monitor devices for images of child sexual abuse, sexting, and report offenders to police. Although privacy and technology issues are complex and heated, the intention is noble. The fewer people who exploit children for pornography the better. As a father of two boys, who are at the beginning of puberty, and cell phone ownership, Apple’s announcement has made it even more urgent for me to have a private conversation with them. Parents need to remind teens that digital communications are private. It is likely that someone in a darkened room will see their nudes. And it might not be the person they are sexing with. The potential consequences could be very significant.

Moreover, it would be hyperbole if it were true. It isn’t.

Here’s a quick overview of what Apple intends to do to monitor sexting and related activities. An algorithm will scan images uploaded into iPhotos by users and compare their digital signature with a database of known child sexual abuse photos. Once the match is established, an individual will assess the image and alert law enforcement if necessary. There are many questions that remain unanswered.

Based on the information available, parents can make reasonable assumptions about their children’s risk. First, teens were already charged with child pornography distribution and placed on sex offender registries for benign sexting among consenting partners of the same age. Apple’s announcement has second-rate details. The human reviewer is not allowed to look at false positives, which could include nude photos taken by teens. What keeps the human reviewer oblivious to contacting law enforcement regarding images they may deem illegal?

This presents a problem for me as a parent. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, I must admit and accept that my boys explore sexuality. It is an innate and common feature of human development. It’s as simple as playing “doctor”, or sneaking off to play “I’ll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours”. And it’s based on deep curiosity about how bodies look and function.

Talking About Body and Its Biological Functions In Relation to Sexting

Moreover, our conversations about their bodies to date have been open and honest. When they’re exploring their bodies, we don’t use any euphemisms. My boys are growing older, and their curiosity and exploration will go beyond them sooner than I would like. It would be foolish to think that they wouldn’t use all of the tools available to them to help facilitate their exploration, whether it’s a cushion on the couch or a phone.

This is why Apple’s announcement on privacy and bodies will have a profound impact on our ongoing discussions about privacy and bodies. As we grow older and establish intimate relationships. Our bodies are wonderful. It is normal to want to share them with others. However, you should not assume privacy. It’s in a way a parody of the religious conservative teachings “God is always watching!” that was to discourage children from exploring sexuality. Except that the omnipotent presence in this instance is not a deity, but a for-profit corporation, overzealous and fallible. God is in many ways far less dangerous than God.

They will also receive their first cell phones. You could lose your privacy, your body, and possibly your freedom if you send it via text.