WebCam: How Australia paved the way for Apple’s encryption backflip – Crikey

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Last week, Apple took a cue from Australia and backflipped on protecting its users privacy.

The worlds most popular phone maker shared plans to begin scanning for child pornography or sexually explicit material in messages sent by users over iMessage or uploaded to iCloud storage.

End-to-end encryption guarantees privacy because only the sender and recipient can read the information. It protects people from overbearing governments, nefarious hackers and companies who want to siphon every piece of data from their customers.

Boiled down, what Apple has proposed is a sophisticated way of seeing whats inside even end-to-end encrypted messages. And if this all sounds familiar, thats because Australia did it first.

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In 2018, the Morrison government passed world-first anti-encryption legislation that would force companies and individuals to break any protection they gave their users. Some cited the need to combat child sex abuse material as a reason for these powers.

At the time, my colleague Bernard Keane called these powers bureaucrat-designed malware. Early analysis suggests the law is costing us billions.

The critique of Australias law and Apples proposal is the same: even if your digital backdoor is used judiciously, its easy to ratchet it wider and for someone else to stroll on through.

Apple has to take the position of Im Not Like Those Other Tech Companies, Im A Cool Tech Company, billing itself as the anti-Google, anti-Facebook, pro-privacy company.

Famously, Apple rejected pressure from the FBI to unlock a phone belonging to one of the two perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. (Theres a link to Australia in this story: it was a small Australian firm that ended up unlocking the phone in 2016.) Apple argued at the time that it would be a slippery slope.

Critics of Apples decision are applying this same argument today: if Apple scans messages and uploads for child sex abuse material, why not for terrorist material? OK, maybe that argument is fine to you. What about when China tells Apple it has to scan certain political images, or prevent citizens from sending them?

Apple says it wont its policy only allows for child sex abuse material flagged in two countries to set off their systems but given its compromises with authoritarian China in the past, the idea of Apple conceding in some way to the regime isnt out of the question.

Others have taken note of this disregard for encryption too. A similar anti-encryption bill proposed in the US last year appears to have stalled, but a statement from the Five Eyes nations along with Japan and India shows that such powers are on their wanted lists as well.

While the world is catching up, Australia continues to set the pace. As part of the controversial Online Safety Act which comes into effect early 2022, the government has created a set of Basic Online Safety Expectations.

A draft of expectations outlines a requirement for large tech companies to take reasonable steps to develop and implement processes to detect and address material or activity on the service that is or may be unlawful or harmful, even for encrypted platforms. The eSafety Commissioner can fine companies more than $500,000 for failing to meet these expectations.

So to recap: three years ago, Australians could expect that messages sent to others would stay between them and the recipients. Today, were set to have a system that requires companies to create backdoors in every platform; a flaw just waiting to be abused.

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This month marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Zyzz, a young man from Sydneys south west who found fame as a muscle-bound, meme-making online legend.

Zyzz real name Aziz Sergeyevich Shavershian first drew attention by sharing images of his transformation from a gangly teen into a shredded, jacked and tanned young man flexing at music festivals and goading other users on 4Chans fitness message board and the forum BodyBuilding.com. (Bodybuilders have long attracted the internets attention because of the natural magnetism of their extreme physiques.)

What Zyzz did with that attention cemented his status: he posted his way into creating a philosophy.

University of Canberra Professor Glen Fuller, who has written about Zyzz in the past, told me that Shavershian showed a preternatural understanding of memetic culture and an ability to perform as an online character.

Zyzz understood Zyzz wasnt a person or a quality. It was a trajectory, aspiring to transform the self. It resonated with blokes from south-western Sydney who didnt align with the dominant white male identity, he told me.

In a way, he was the proto-influencer and shitposter: before Instagram was even invented, he was posting photos and videos as if he was a celebrity caught by the paparazzi. He coined now-ubiquitous phrases u mirin, u jelly, aesthetic and poses. He performed different sides of himself for different formats: alpha male in his poses, self-aware joker winking at his audience in videos.

His tragic death from a heart attack aged just 22 while on holiday in Thailand cemented his status as a larger-than-life figure who was the patron saint of skinny boys who spent too long online.

A decade on from his death, there are literally dozens of Facebook pages, Instagram profiles and TikTok accounts around the world still actively sharing Zyzz content, ranging from grainy looking footage of his workouts to repurposing his iconic photos as meme templates a testament to the enduring quality of the Zyzz philosophy.

The admin of one such group, @thezyzzlegacy, is a 17-year-old from Italy named Alfonso. Despite being just seven years old when Zyzz died, Alonso says Zyzz inspired him to start bodybuilding at age 14.

When I asked him over WhatsApp why he was so fascinated with a long-dead Australian bodybuilder, Alfonso sent me a 500-word screed that quoted Zyzz liberally and waxed lyrically about his intelligence, self-awareness and dance moves.

Zyzz is not a person, Zyzz is a way of life, he said.

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WebCam: How Australia paved the way for Apple's encryption backflip - Crikey

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