Facebook wants you (yes, you!) to donate your nude photos to them. Wait, what? I know, I know, we all just got over the shock of Apple Photos creating a special folder for “brassiere” shots, but the idea is worth hearing out. Basically, the social media giant is testing a feature that allows users to upload their nude photos to a database so the company can preemptively block any other user from uploading them. It could be a major strike against revenge porn, which, according to Newsweek, Facebook inadvertently hosts around 54,000 cases of a month.
But how, you may be wondering, is Facebook going to keep the images from being leaked? Well, the plan isn’t for the company to store them in the same way they do, say, your awkward profile picture from seven years ago. Instead, a digital signature known as a “hash” will be created for each image. This is a kind of digital encryption which prevents content from being shared. Hashing technology has been employed to stop the spread of child pornography and extremist imagery and uses the same kind of AI technology that allows Facebook to recognize faces in images.
“They’re not storing the image, they’re storing the link and using artificial intelligence and other photo-matching technologies,” Australian e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So if somebody tried to upload that same image, which would have the same digital footprint or hash value, it will be prevented from being uploaded.”
However, as Newsweek notes, there is still the possibility for hacker interception during the sending and receiving phases, if not done securely. Though, obviously, if Facebook is asking users to upload their most private images, you can bet security at all points is going to be a top priority. However, catastrophic hacks of everything from banks to tech companies to Equifax make it hard to feel like you can trust any company, no matter how large and powerful. Especially when it comes to something like your social security number or pictures of your naked body.
Slate also points out that the company has not yet addressed some pretty major questions about the service, like whether or not you have to upload every single photo you’re concerned about, or if the AI is smart enough to recognize the same user in multiple photos. Or, if someone hacks into someone else’s user account, would they be able to retrieve the image?
Facebook is currently testing the feature in Australia, and if all goes well, they’ll roll it out in the United States, the U.K., and Canada next.
The company’s goal is clearly admirable. According to research by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 93 percent of revenge porn victims say they have suffered “significant emotional distress,” while 49 percent say they have been stalked or harassed by people who saw their photos. Whether or not Facebook’s initiative is successful, revenge porn will continue to be a huge problem online, but a major company taking aim at its eradication could inspire other organizations to do the same.
By the same token, asking revenge porn victims or people who have cause to be concerned about revenge porn to upload nude photos of themselves to a database, even if it is secure, is kind of an insensitive and tone-deaf approach that could be triggering for some. Once you’ve experienced the trauma of having your body plastered around the web, it’s unlikely you’re going to want to relive that, even if it could theoretically help prevent it from happening again.