Apple's Messages Communication Safety Explained: What You Need to Know

Apple in the iOS 15.2 beta introduced a new Messages Communication Safety option that's designed to keep children safer online by protecting them from potentially harmful images. We've seen a lot of confusion over the feature, and thought it might be helpful to provide an outline of how Communication Safety works and clear up misconceptions.

communication safety feature yellow

Communication Safety Overview

Communication Safety is meant to prevent minors from being exposed to unsolicited photos that contain inappropriate content.

As explained by Apple, Communication Safety is designed to detect nudity in photos sent or received by children. The iPhone or iPad does on-device scanning of images in the Messages app, and if nudity is detected, the photo is blurred.

communication safety 1
If a child taps on the blurred image, the child is told that the image is sensitive, showing "body parts that are usually covered by underwear or bathing suits." The feature explains that photos with nudity can be "used to hurt you" and that the person in the photo might not want it seen if it's been shared without permission.

Apple also presents children with ways to get help by messaging a trusted grown-up in their life. There are two tap-through screens that explain why a child might not want to view a nude photo, but a child can opt to view the photo anyway, so Apple is not restricting access to content, but providing guidance.

Communication Safety is Entirely Opt-In

When iOS 15.2 is released, Communication Safety will be an opt-in feature. It will not be enabled by default, and those who use it will need to expressly turn it on.

Communication Safety is for Children

Communication Safety is a parental control feature enabled through the Family Sharing feature. With Family Sharing, adults in the family are able to manage the devices of children who are under 18.

Parents can opt in to Communication Safety using Family Sharing after updating to iOS 15.2. Communication Safety is only available on devices set up for children who are under 18 and who are part of a Family Sharing group.

Children under 13 are not able to create an Apple ID, so account creation for younger children must be done by a parent using Family Sharing. Children over 13 can create their own ‌Apple ID‌, but can still be invited to a Family Sharing group with parental oversight available.

Apple determines the age of the person who owns the ‌Apple ID‌ by the birthday used at the account creation process.

Communication Safety Can't Be Enabled on Adult Devices

As a Family Sharing feature designed exclusively for ‌Apple ID‌ accounts owned by a person under the age of 18, there is no option to activate Communication Safety on a device owned by an adult.

Adults do not need to be concerned about Messages Communication Safety unless they are parents managing it for their children. In a Family Sharing group consisting of adults, there will be no Communication Safety option, and no scanning of the photos in Messages is being done on an adult's device.

Messages Remain Encrypted

Communication Safety does not compromise the end-to-end encryption available in the Messages app on an iOS device. Messages remain encrypted in full, and no Messages content is sent to another person or to Apple.

Apple has no access to the Messages app on children's devices, nor is Apple notified if and when Communication Safety is enabled or used.

Everything is Done On-Device and Nothing Leaves the iPhone

For Communication Safety, images sent and received in the Messages app are scanned for nudity using Apple's machine learning and AI technology. Scanning is done entirely on device, and no content from Messages is sent to Apple's servers or anywhere else.

The technology used here is similar to the technology that the Photos app uses to identify pets, people, food, plants, and other items in images. All of that identification is also done on device in the same way.

When Apple first described Communication Safety in August, there was a feature designed to notify parents if children opted to view a nude photo after being warned against it. This has been removed.

If a child is warned about a nude photo and views it anyway, parents will not be notified, and full autonomy is in the hands of the child. Apple removed the feature after criticism from advocacy groups that worried it could be a problem in situations of parental abuse.

Communication Safety is Not Apple's Anti-CSAM Measure

Apple initially announced Communication Safety in August 2021, and it was introduced as part of a suite of Child Safety features that also included an anti-CSAM initiative.

Apple's anti-CSAM plan, which Apple has described as being able to identify Child Sexual Abuse Material in iCloud, has not been implemented and is entirely separate from Communication Safety. It was a mistake for Apple to introduce these two features together because one has nothing to do with the other except for both being under the Child Safety umbrella.

There has been a lot of blowback over Apple's anti-CSAM measure because it will see photos uploaded to ‌iCloud‌ scanned against a database of known Child Sexual Abuse Material, and Apple users aren't happy with the prospect of photo scanning. There are concerns that the technology that Apple is using to scan photos and match them against known CSAM could be expanded in the future to cover other types of material.

In response to widespread criticism, Apple has delayed its anti-CSAM plans and is making changes to how it will be implemented before releasing it. No anti-CSAM functionality has been added to iOS at this time.

Release Date and Implementation

Communication Safety is included in iOS 15.2, which is available as a beta at this time. The beta can be downloaded by developers or members of Apple's beta testing program. There is no word yet on when iOS 15.2 will launch to the general public.

Apple plans to provide new documentation on Communication Safety when iOS 15.2 comes out, offering further explanation on how the feature works.

Related Roundups: iOS 15, iPadOS 15
Related Forum: iOS 15

Top Rated Comments

mzeb Avatar
11 weeks ago
This feature is done right. I am happy to see that it is all done on the device and that the decisions on what is inappropriate can be left to children and their parents. Apple should not be in the business of child safety. They should be in the business of providing the tools to parents to make sure their children are safe with their devices. The responsibility of child protection should sit first on the parent and this allows exactly that.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jz0309 Avatar
11 weeks ago
If this would have been a feature back when my children were minors, I would have definitely turned it on, so thank you Apple
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
chucker23n1 Avatar
11 weeks ago

Most kids have Android phones anyway
Not in the US they don't. https://www.imore.com/nine-out-ten-teens-have-iphone-now
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
thadoggfather Avatar
11 weeks ago

The iPhone is like a Nintendo Switch.
An Android is like a MacBook Pro.

It’s sort of clear where Apple is going with iOS:

- CSAM
- Apple Arcade
- Apple TV+
- Memoji

And it’s also clear where Apple is going with macOS

- SD Cards
- Magsafe
- USB-C
- Side-loading .DMG
I am just so lost here on so many levels.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fwmireault Avatar
11 weeks ago
Very much needed article, thank you MR for the clarification. I really hope that people who still mix this up with CSAM scanning will read it before making any comments.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheHammer Avatar
11 weeks ago
Anyone got popcorn? Im keen to sit back and watch the comments from people who didn't take the time to read the article complaint about "Apple invading privacy".
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

app privacy report ios 15 2

iOS 15.2 Features: Everything New in iOS 15.2

Monday December 13, 2021 1:45 pm PST by
Apple today released iOS 15.2, the second major update to the iOS operating system that was released in September. iOS 15.2 introduces several features that Apple initially promised would come in iOS 15, but were ultimately delayed. This guide highlights everything new that's been added in the iOS 15.2 update. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. App Privacy Report App ...
iOS 15

Everything New in iOS 15.2 Beta 2: Legacy Contacts, Hide My Email Improvements, and More

Tuesday November 9, 2021 3:17 pm PST by
Apple today released the second beta of an upcoming iOS 15.2 update to developers for testing purposes, and the software update adds quite a few new features. This guide highlights everything new that we've found in the second iOS 15.2 beta. Legacy Contacts With Legacy Contacts, you can set a trusted person to be able to access your Apple ID and your data (or "Digital Legacy") after you...
iOS 15 Messages Guide Feature

iOS 15 Messages Guide: New Features, Photos, Updates

Friday July 9, 2021 1:52 pm PDT by
Apple's FaceTime app was the main focus for many of the iOS 15 updates that were introduced, but the Messages app wasn't entirely forgotten. Apple introduced a new Shared with You feature and streamlined several interface elements to make the Messages experience more pleasant. This guide outlines all of the new features that Apple added to the Messages app in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. Shared...
1 Save IMessage photos

macOS Monterey: 40 Tips, Tricks, and Features You Might Have Missed

Thursday December 2, 2021 10:39 am PST by
Apple released macOS Monterey to the public in the fall, and the new desktop OS brings a whole slew of useful new features and changes to apps like Safari, Maps, FaceTime, Notes, Photos, Messages, and more. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Beyond the headline features, Apple has also made numerous tweaks and changes to macOS that aim to make the time you spend using ...
apple ios 15 2 legacy contact feature

How to Use Apple's Legacy Contact Feature to Let Your Family Access Your Photos and Data After You Die

Friday November 12, 2021 1:33 pm PST by
Apple in iOS 15.2 is making it easier for your loved ones to access your personal data in the event of your death with the addition of a Legacy Contact feature. A person set as your Legacy Contact gets a special code that can be provided to Apple alongside a death certificate to unlock your device. The Legacy Contact that you set will have access to your Messages, photos, notes, and other...
m3 feature black

Apple's M3 Chip: Everything We Know

Thursday January 13, 2022 1:22 pm PST by
Apple is developing the next several iterations of its M-series Apple silicon chips, and one of those future chips coming in 2023 is expected to be called the "M3" and use updated TSMC chip technology. This guide contains everything that we know about the M3 chip, and it will be updated over time as we learn more about it. What We Know Apple is still on the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max line of ...
iOS 15 Privacy Guide Feature 1

iOS 15 Privacy Guide: Private Relay, Hide My Email, Mail Privacy Protection, App Reports and More

Friday August 6, 2021 1:31 pm PDT by
With every new version of iOS, Apple makes an effort to provide new privacy and security-focused features to make the iPhone and iPad more secure, and iOS 15 is no exception. It is, in fact, a huge leap forward in privacy thanks to features like iCloud Private Relay and Hide My Email. However, Apple’s recent announcement about the introduction of CSAM scanning on device has led to significant...
General Dropbox Feature

Had It With the Dropbox App? Here Are Five Alternative Dropbox Clients

Wednesday December 1, 2021 3:19 am PST by
The Dropbox app has a troubled reputation among Mac users. The client is often called out for using significant system resources, even when it's not doing anything in the background. And when it does lurch into action, syncing with Dropbox's servers can sometimes be painfully slow, for no obvious reason. Added to this is the fact that almost a year after the first Macs with the M1 chip...

Popular Stories

airpodsinear 1

AirPods Save Woman's Life With Feature Everyone Should Know

Friday January 21, 2022 2:13 am PST by
Apple's AirPods have been credited with saving a woman's life after a potentially fatal fall, People reports. When a 60-year-old florist in New Jersey tripped and hit her head in her studio, she lost consciousness and awoke heavily bleeding. With nobody around to call for help, she realized she had her AirPods in, and used a "Hey Siri" command to call 911. An operator was able to stay on the ...
iphone 13 earpods

Apple to Stop Including EarPods With Every iPhone Sold in France From Next Week

Friday January 21, 2022 3:21 am PST by
Apple will no longer include EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, starting on January 24, according to a notice posted by a French carrier (via iGeneration). Apple was previously required to include EarPods in the box with the iPhone due to a French law that required every smartphone sold in the country to come with a "handsfree kit," but the law has now been changed in favor of reducing the ...
peloton tv workout cardio

Apple Floated as Potential Buyer of Peloton

Friday January 21, 2022 6:11 am PST by
Following months of bleak news about Peloton's "precarious state," including the revelation that it has halted production of its bikes and treadmills, Apple is being floated as a potential buyer of Peloton's troubled fitness business. Yesterday, CNBC reported that Peloton will temporarily stop production of its connected fitness products due to a "significant reduction" in consumer demand, a ...
Questionable Design Decisions

Apple's Most Questionable Design Decisions in Recent Memory

Sunday January 23, 2022 2:59 am PST by
Apple has always emphasized the depth of thought that goes into the design of its products. In the foreword to Designed by Apple in California, a photo book released by the company in 2016, Jony Ive explains how Apple strives "to define objects that appear effortless" and "so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative." But every once in a while even Apple...
Spring 2022 Apple Products Feature

New iPad Air, Macs, and iPhone SE With 5G Likely to Be Announced at Apple Event This Spring

Thursday January 20, 2022 8:32 am PST by
Earlier this week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple "will be holding a spring event" to announce a new iPhone SE and other hardware. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Gurman said the event is likely to occur in March or April. Gurman did not elaborate on what "other hardware" will be announced at Apple's purported spring event, but rumors suggest at least four products are...
Upcoming Products 2022 Feature

Gurman: Apple Preparing 'Widest Array of New Hardware Products in Its History' for Fall

Sunday January 23, 2022 10:32 am PST by
Apple is working on a number of new products that are set to launch this fall, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that it will be "the widest array" of new devices that Apple has introduced in its history. In his latest "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explains that Apple is working on four new iPhones (5G iPhone SE, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max), an updated low-end MacBook Pro,...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Apple Watch Charging Bug Fixed in watchOS 8.4 Release Candidate

Thursday January 20, 2022 4:01 pm PST by
The watchOS 8.4 release candidate that was seeded to developers and beta testers this morning addresses an ongoing bug that could cause some Apple Watch chargers not to work properly with the Apple Watch. Back in December, we reported on a growing number of charging issues that Apple Watch Series 7 owners were facing. Since watchOS 8.3, there have been a number of complaints about...
safari icon blue banner

macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 Release Candidates Fix Safari Bug That Leaks Browsing Activity

Thursday January 20, 2022 1:30 pm PST by
The macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 release candidates that came out today appear to address a Safari bug that could cause your recent browsing history and details about your identity to be leaked to malicious entities. As shared last week by browser fingerprinting service FingerprintJS, there is an issue with the WebKit implementation of the IndexedDB JavaScript API. Any website that uses...
apple college discounts

Apple Walks Back UNiDAYS Verification Requirement for U.S. Education Store

Friday January 21, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that customers taking advantage of educational discounts in the United States verify their status as a teacher, student, or school staff member through UNiDAYS. The requirement was a major change as Apple had never asked customers to go through a verification process in the United States before, and now, just three days after verification was added,...