Facebook requests nude photos from users in a bid to tackle revenge porn

8 Nov 201720 Shares

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Facebook. Image: Twin Design/Shutterstock

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Revenge porn is a growing issue, and Facebook is piloting a novel scheme to combat it.

Revenge porn cases can cause untold trauma and damage to victims, which is why Facebook has teamed up with an Australian government agency to prevent intimate or sexual images of users being shared without their consent.

For people who have sent nude photos of themselves, there are risks that the images could fall into the wrong hands, whether that’s by a malicious hacker gaining access to your device, or an ex-partner using the images as an exercise in online humiliation.

According to ABC Australia, the new scheme means that people who are subjected to “image-based abuse” can now take action before pictures are posted on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.

Julie Inman Grant, e-safety commissioner in Australia, said that one in five Australian women aged between 18 and 45 have been victims of revenge porn incidents, and the likelihood increases for indigenous Australians, with one in four people reporting to have been affected.

Sending nudes to yourself on Facebook

The plan with Facebook will work in a unique way. If users are worried their images will end up plastered all over Instagram or Facebook, the e-safety commissioner will tell them to send the images to themselves on Facebook Messenger.

Once you send the image to yourself, staff will create a hash of the photo – in other words, a digital fingerprint. If someone else tries to upload the same image you send via Messenger, it will have the same hash value and the upload process will stop.

This is similar to the PhotoDNA hashing system, which is used to identify images of child abuse, stalling further sharing of that content.

Battling revenge porn

Global head of safety at Facebook, Antigone Davis, said that Australia is one of four countries involved in this “industry-first” pilot to prevent resharing of intimate images on the Facebook family of sites.

Inman Grant said that the security of the images was a priority for both Facebook and the Australian authorities. “We have a great deal of comfort that they have chose the most secure route … we want to empower people to be able to protect themselves and take action; we don’t want to make them vulnerable.”

Facebook has previously taken steps to tackle revenge porn, launching a series of tools in April of this year that allowed users to report intimate images posted without consent. This involved the flagging the images to specially trained representatives from the site’s community operations staff, who would then decide whether or not to remove the highlighted image.

Legal rules around sharing intimate content

In 2015, it became illegal in Wales and England to share private or sexual images or videos without the subject’s permission. As of April 2017, 206 people were prosecuted under these new rules.

Here in Ireland, An Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, TD, publicised the Government’s intentions to criminalise revenge porn in May of this year.

Hopefully, advances in technology such as the ones touted by Facebook, and increased governmental awareness of the problem on a global scale, will see instances of revenge porn reduce, thereby sparing hundreds of people the mental harm it can cause.

Facebook. Image: Twin Design/Shutterstock

Updated, 11.32am, 9 November 2017: This article was updated to remove an erroneous reference to the PhotoDNA hashing system dealing with terrorist content.

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com