iOS 17 is bringing Apple's anti-abuse features to more apps

iOS 17
(Image credit: Rafapress/Shutterstock)

iOS 17 looks to be bringing updates to Apple's anti-nudity safety features on iPhones (via Apple), expanding the apps that can use it and offering an opt-in for adult users. 

Announced at WWDC 2023, Communication Safety is targeted at protecting kids from exploitation, and will now be enabled by default for users under the age of 13. The tool looks for images containing nudity on the device, with any suspected images getting blurred by default. 

Tapping the image to reveal it will first pop up a warning indicating that this could be an inappropriate image, and that the user may wish to abort opening the image, or look at the Ways to Get Help option in case they're being deliberately targeted. Choosing to open the image will warn any connected parent accounts.

An iPad display a sensitive photo warning

An example of a sensitive photo warning for users under 13. (Image credit: Apple)

This feature already worked with iMessage, but now it will be able to detect images in video, such as when using FaceTime, as well as other apps like Contacts and AirDrop. Apple's also introduced a developer API so that third-party apps could also make use of the system.

Another new addition Sensitive Content Warning is a similar system designed as an optional feature for adult users. The same scanning system will offer a less obstructive warning about potential explicit content if enabled in Settings.

A sensitive image warning display in the iPhone Messages and AirDrop apps

(Image credit: Apple)

A controversial feature

Apple introduced the Communication Safety feature back in 2021, but its implementation was delayed following user objections to the system scanning both a user's phone and their iCloud files (although iCloud files would apparently be scanned prior to upload, not while in the cloud). Plus the oddly specific threshold of 30 offending images that users would have to reach before Apple would manually investigate an account.

Nonetheless, the system arrived with iOS 15.2, although it could only scan on-device files. While nobody can fault Apple's effort to protect vulnerable users from abuse, the precedent set for examining the contents of a user's iPhone without specific permission has worried privacy advocates.

Fortunately, iOS 17 and WWDC 2023 came with many other announcements which should spark fewer debates. The best iOS 17 features overall include new smart display and journaling abilities along with other small upgrades to existing apps, plus there are more security and privacy updates coming such as automatic locking and enhanced anti-tracking for Safari private browser tabs and a more granular Photos picking tool.

Meanwhile, Apple's hardware announcements feature hotly anticipated devices such as the 15-inch MacBook Air and the new Vision Pro headset. 

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.