Apple’s new iPhone photo-scanning feature is a complicated issue. However, one thing is clear: If you have an iPhone, there’s a way you can opt out of Apple’s local photo scanning—for now, at least.
Say Goodbye to iCloud Photos Before iOS 15
So, let’s be clear about what’s going on. According to Apple’s official FAQ, your iPhone will only perform local scans of photos that you upload to iCloud Photos. The scan will occur on your iPhone against a database of known Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) photos provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
This feature will arrive with the release of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, so you’ll want to make this change before your devices install the operating system update in fall of 2021.
As of the release of iOS 15, this scanning will only happen in the USA. If you’re in another country, your iPhone won’t be locally scanning your photos—not yet, at least.
So, to stop your iPhone from scanning your photos, you just have to stop uploading them to iCloud Photos. Yes, this means that you can’t use iCloud Photos anymore—it’s a tradeoff.
By the way, other cloud service providers like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox are scanning for the same type of content—but instead of performing the scan on your device before the upload, they’re scanning your photos after they’re uploaded to the service provider’s servers. Apple’s big change is that the scan will now happen locally on your iPhone before the upload process. Seen from that perspective, it’s clear why this is such a complicated issue—on the surface level (and if it always works as Apple says and never starts scanning for other types of content), it seems like a small change.
Disable iCloud Photo Uploads
To find iCloud Photos options on an iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app, tap your name at the top of the app, tap “iCloud” in the list, and tap “Photos.”
If you’re using iCloud Photos on your iPhone or iPad, the iCloud Photos switch will be green. Tap the “iCloud Photos” option here to disable iCloud Photos. It will become gray when it’s disabled.
You’ll be asked what you want to do with your existing iCloud Photos after you do this. If you select “Download Photos & Videos,” you can download a local copy of your entire iCloud Photo Library to your iPhone. Your iPhone or iPad will stop uploading any new photos that you take to iCloud Photos, and it won’t scan them.
Tip: To remove your iCloud Photos library from Apple’s servers, head to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Photos and tap “Disable & Delete.” Be sure to download a local copy of your iCloud photos to ensure that you don’t lose them.
Where Should You Store Your Photos Instead?
Now, your photos will no longer be uploaded to Apple’s iCloud Photos. You probably want to have multiple copies of them so that they don’t vanish if you lose your iPhone, of course.
You could copy them to your computer backup locally, back up to a NAS (network-attached storage) device that you control, or turn to an end-to-end encrypted cloud storage system. The choice is yours.