The Heat Initiative Is Funded by Dark Money Organizations

Last month, a new organization called the Heat Initiative launched an aggressive, high-profile campaign intended to pressure Apple to more comprehensively scan for child abuse materials in users’ messages, photo and video libraries, and iCloud storage. About a week after its debut came Apple’s annual iPhone launch presentation, during which time Heat Initiative flew an airplane banner over Apple Park. Lest you think this is original and clever, the Electronic Frontier Foundation did the same thing in protest of Apple’s then-recently announced plans for locally scanning users’ iCloud-destined photo libraries. It also placed a full-page ad in the New York Times. None of this comes cheap, which may make you wonder where the organization is getting such generous funding.

Sam Biddle, the Intercept:

Something the Heat Initiative has not placed on giant airborne banners is who’s behind it: a controversial billionaire philanthropy network whose influence and tactics have drawn unfavorable comparisons to the right-wing Koch network. Though it does not publicize this fact, the Heat Initiative is a project of the Hopewell Fund, an organization that helps privately and often secretly direct the largesse — and political will — of billionaires. Hopewell is part of a giant, tightly connected web of largely anonymous, Democratic Party-aligned dark-money groups, in an ironic turn, campaigning to undermine the privacy of ordinary people.


For an organization demanding that Apple scour the private information of its customers, the Heat Initiative discloses extremely little about itself. According to a report in the New York Times, the Heat Initiative is armed with $2 million from donors including the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, an organization founded by British billionaire hedge fund manager and Google activist investor Chris Cohn, and the Oak Foundation, also founded by a British billionaire. The Oak Foundation previously provided $250,000 to a group attempting to weaken end-to-end encryption protections in EU legislation, according to a 2020 annual report.

Though Biddle highlights Hopewell’s association with causes supporting the U.S. Democratic Party, this does not seem like an argument divided among political affiliations, and I certainly hope it does not slide in that direction. This is a disagreement between people who understand the social and technical risks of what is proposed, and those who earnestly believe those trade-offs are worth it. I understand their objections — I do not think they are naïve — but I will continue to disagree on the basis that personal cloud storage ought to be considered an extension of local storage. Organizations like the Heat Initiative are not much interested in a nuanced discussion.