Apple has introduced new child protection features for iPhone, iPad and Mac that will issue warnings when sending or receiving photos that contain nudity.
These new communication safety features are already active in the US and will be enabled for Australia and New Zealand users with a software update that will become available in the coming weeks.
The new feature analyses images and attachments on the device – the iPhone, iPad or Mac – and does not send to the cloud.
This means no one, including Apple, ever sees the message or images. It’s all done via machine learning, and all done locally on the user’s device.
These measures have been introduced at a time when sexting and sending nudes is more common among teenagers.
According to a 2017 eSafety Commissioner survey, nine out of 10 young people between 14 and 17 thought sexting was a kind of courtship behaviour
In that research it was revealed that 5 per cent had sent an intimate image with 19 per cent of these admitting they trusted the person they sent it to.
It also showed 15 per cent reported being asked for an image with 52 per cent of requests coming from someone they didn’t know
With Apple’s new message safety features, if a photo deemed to contain nudity is received, it will be blurred and the child will see a warning telling them the photo could be sensitive and they are asked if they still want to view it.
But Apple’s warnings are also more educational and go a little further by saying: “Naked photos and videos show the private body parts that are usually covered by underwear or bathing suits.”
The warning also goes on to say: “It’s not your fault, but naked photos and videos can be used to hurt you. The person in this might not want it seen – it could have been shared without permission.”
And similarly if a nude photo or video is being shared, another warning will appear saying: “It’s your choice, but make sure you feel safe”.
It also goes on to say: “don’t share anything you don’t want to. Talk to someone you trust if you feel pressured to view naked photos or videos. You’re not alone and can always talk with someone who’s trained to help.”
The options at the bottom of the screen are: Don’t View, Message a Grown Up and View.
These new child safety features are not enabled by default. If a device is on the Family Sharing Plan it can be turned on for their child’s account.
Digital wellness and online child safety expert Joanne Orlando applauds Apple’s new child safety features.
“It’s a good move because it’s based on education and a child learning to make good decisions,” Orlando says.
“Taking an educative approach helps a child begin to see red flags – that’s good!
“It shifts the focus from adult surveillance. The best scenario is a parent talking their child through this straight up.
“That could be very supportive for a child, plus it opens up lines of communication if a child is unsure.”
This new message safety feature, even if the child’s apple device has active parental controls, will not inform the parent that a nude photo has been sent or received.
Apple says it will be up to the child to inform their parent about sending and receiving these images.
Apple has also expanded guidance in Siri, Spotlight and Safari search by adding resources to help both children and parents stay safe online with links to seek help if they are in an unsafe situation.
Siri, Spotlight and Safari search have also been updated to step in if a user performs searches or queries related to child exploitation.
The notifications in this case include warnings that interest in this topic is harmful and illegal and offers resources from partner organisations to receive help.