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 in the United States, and it is also expanding to the UK in the future.

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

Top Rated Comments

mzeb Avatar
10 months 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
10 months 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
10 months 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
10 months 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
10 months 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
10 months 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

iOS 15

iOS 15.3 Features: Everything New in iOS 15.3

Wednesday January 26, 2022 10:34 am PST by
Apple on January 26 finally released the iOS 15.3 and iPadOS 15.3 updates to the public, but unfortunately, these updates are focused more on security fixes than outward-facing changes. You won't find fun new feature additions to iOS 15.3 when updating, but it is imperative to install the new software because there are important vulnerability fixes that will keep you safer online. Safari...
iPhone SE 2022 Red Feature

Everything We Expect to See From Tomorrow's Apple Event

Friday March 4, 2022 1:18 pm PST by
Apple is set to hold its first event of 2022 on Tuesday, March 8 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. Apple's spring events sometimes aren't as exciting as the September and October events, but it's nice to have new devices on the horizon in the new year. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. For the 2022 spring event, we're expecting a refreshed version of the iPhone SE, a new...
ipad pro vs air early 2022

iPad Air 2022 vs. iPad Pro 2021 Buyer's Guide

Wednesday March 9, 2022 1:59 pm PST by
In March 2022, Apple introduced the fifth-generation iPad Air, featuring the M1 chip, 5G connectivity, and a new front-facing camera system. The updated iPad Air comes almost a year after in Apple introduced its current iPad Pro lineup, which also features the M1 chip and 5G connectivity, but sports a number of high-end features like ProMotion and a Thunderbolt port. The introduction of the...
iphone se 3 vs iphone 11

iPhone SE 3 vs. iPhone 11 Buyer's Guide

Wednesday March 9, 2022 9:34 am PST by
The third-generation iPhone SE and the iPhone 11 are Apple's lowest-cost iPhone options, starting at $429 and $499 respectively. Apple released the iPhone 11 in late 2019, and has bumped it down in price since then to make it more accessible as new iPhone models have been released. On the other hand, the third-generation iPhone SE launched in early 2022, refreshing the most affordable iPhone...
MAsk On Face ID iOS 15

iOS 15.4 Features: Everything New in iOS 15.4

Monday March 14, 2022 1:45 pm PDT by
Apple today released iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4, the fourth major updates to the iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 operating systems that first came out in September. iOS and iPadOS 15.4 are huge updates that bring quite a few useful new features to the iPhone and the iPad. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Face ID With a Mask With iOS 15.4, there is now an option to unlock your...
ipad pro m1 feature

Apple's 2022 iPad Pro: What to Expect

Wednesday February 16, 2022 1:55 pm PST by
Apple is working on a next-generation version of the iPad Pro, and while there are no major design updates that we know of, there are some new features that are worth looking forward to. This guide aggregates everything that we know about the 2022 iPad Pro so far based on the rumors that we've heard. Mini-LED Display Apple last year introduced an updated 12.9-inch iPad Pro with mini-LED...
Pro Display XDR Blue

Apple is Finally Making a Cheaper Display: What We Know

Monday February 14, 2022 2:21 pm PST by
Apple has not offered an affordable Apple-branded display since the 27-inch Thunderbolt display was discontinued in 2016, but that's set to change sometime in the not too distant future. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Right now, Apple only sells the $5,000 Pro Display XDR, but rumors suggest new standalone displays are in the works. We don't know a lot right now,...
Universal Control Colored Feature

Universal Control: Everything You Need to Know

Thursday February 3, 2022 1:48 pm PST by
iOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 introduce Universal Control, a long-awaited feature that Apple first previewed at the 2021 Worldwide Developers Conference. Universal Control is designed to allow you to control multiple Macs and iPads with a single trackpad/mouse and keyboard, and this Universal Control guide covers the ins and outs of the feature and answers all the questions you might have ...

Popular Stories

iPhone 14 Dummies 1 Feature

Everything Rumored for Apple's September Event: iPhone 14, Apple Watch Pro and More

Friday August 12, 2022 2:34 pm PDT by
There's just about a month to go until Apple holds its annual September event focusing on new iPhone and Apple Watch models. We thought we'd take a quick look at everything that's rumored for Apple's September event to give MacRumors readers a rundown on what to expect when the first fall event rolls around. iPhone 14 The iPhone 14 can probably be described more as an "iPhone 13S" because...
z fold 4 1

Hands-On With Samsung's Latest Foldable Smartphones, the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip

Friday August 12, 2022 12:46 pm PDT by
Samsung this week launched its fourth-generation foldable devices, the $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip and the $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold. Though there's no sign of a comparable Apple foldable device on the horizon, rumors suggest prototypes are in the works, so we thought we'd take a look at Samsung's newest smartphones to see what Apple needs to measure up to when a foldable iPhone does come out. Subscribe ...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Rear Flat MacRumors Exclusive

iPhone 14 Pro: Analyst Believes Storage Will Continue to Start at 128GB Despite Rumored Price Increase

Friday August 12, 2022 7:04 am PDT by
It wouldn't be the month before an iPhone launch without a few back-and-forth rumors, with the latest debate concerning iPhone 14 Pro storage. iPhone 14 Pro render by Ian Zelbo While research firm TrendForce forecasted that iPhone 14 Pro models could start with an increased 256GB of storage, Haitong International analyst Jeff Pu today forecasted that the upcoming Pro models will continue to...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Front and Back MacRumors Exclusive feature

iPhone 14 Is Just a Few Weeks Away: Three Tips to Prepare for the New iPhone

Wednesday August 10, 2022 4:08 am PDT by
The launch of the new iPhone 14 is just a few weeks away, meaning millions of iPhone customers will soon upgrade their existing iPhone or perhaps get an iPhone for the first time. Exclusive MacRumors iPhone 14 Pro renders by graphic designer Ian Zelbo Whether upgrading from an older model or this is your first iPhone, we've rounded up a few tips to help you prepare for the next flagship...
iPhone 14 Pro Lineup Feature Silver

Kuo: Apple to Increase Prices of iPhone 14 Pro Models

Wednesday August 10, 2022 8:22 am PDT by
Apple plans to increase the prices of iPhone 14 Pro models compared to iPhone 13 Pro models, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Kuo did not reveal exact pricing for the iPhone 14 Pro models. However, in a tweet today, he estimated that the average selling price of the iPhone 14 lineup as a whole will increase by about 15% compared to the iPhone 13 lineup. In the United States, the iPhone...
top stories 13aug2022

Top Stories: New Battery Percentage Icon in iOS 16, USB-C AirPods Rumor, and More

Saturday August 13, 2022 6:00 am PDT by
This week brought some shocking news for iOS 16 beta testers, with Apple bringing back the iPhone battery percentage to the status bar after a number of years. Other news and rumors this week included word that Apple has started recording portions of its media event planned for next month to introduce the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch Series 8, claims about iPhone 14 Pro pricing and Apple's...