If you're worried someone might try to spread nude photos of you, Facebook has a possible solution for you: Send your nude photos to them first. The social network is testing a feature in Australia that involves users uploading explicit photos of themselves and then flagging them as "non-consensual intimate images," allowing Facebook to recognize them in case someone else tries to spread them in the future. If the new feature proves successful, the trial will be expanded to the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, Newsweek reported. A Facebook spokesperson, speaking to Bustle on background via email, confirmed that this feature was being tested in Australia.
To make use of the feature, a Facebook user has to fill out a brief form, then begin a Facebook Messenger conversation with themself, send the photo in the conversation, and flag it. Then, a team of Facebook workers will review the photo to make sure that it violates Facebook's policies around spreading non-consensual images, a Facebook spokesperson tells Bustle via email.
If an image passes a human evaluation, Facebook will then create a "hash" of the image, which is like a unique fingerprint for the file, as Motherboard reported. Motherboard added that "[if] another user tries to upload the same image on Facebook or Instagram, Facebook will test it against its stored hashes, and stop those labeled as revenge porn from being distributed." After the hash is created, the user will be notified that they can delete the photo in the messenger conversation, which stays private.
Revenge porn distributed on Facebook can be especially damaging to people, lawyer Alexandra Whiston-Dew told Newsweek, because "they have their friends, family, work colleagues all gathered in one place for maximum humiliation by publication," she explained. For revenge porn posters, who are generally looking to damage an ex-partner's reputation, the opportunity to expose private images to all of their contacts at once is a golden one. But if you're leery of purposefully handing explicit photos of yourself to any giant tech company, well... you're not alone. Motherboard spoke with digital forensics expert Lesley Carhart, who explained that while Facebook says it won't store a copy of your nudes, just a copy of the hashes made from them, "the [original, explicit] image is still being transmitted and processed. Leaving forensic evidence in memory and potentially on disk." Even though the image is being shared in a private direct message to yourself, the idea of uploading it onto the web at all is uncomfortable for some.
The Australian trial is a cooperative effort between Facebook and Australia's Office of the eSafety Commissioner, and it's a way for users to "inoculate" themselves against potential future attacks, said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, in a statement reported by CNBC.
The fact that Facebook is actively developing tools that could possibly help lower the number of people who are affected by revenge porn is not surprising. The company released new guidelines in April 2017 that signaled a crackdown on revenge porn and the implementation of photo-matching technology that would allow victims of revenge porn posted on Facebook to report a single post containing the image, instead of needing to track down and report every individual post, according to WIRED. WIRED also reported that additionally, users who are about to post a flagged image will receive a pop-up notification telling them it's revenge porn.
The need for tools like these on Facebook became particularly apparent in March 2017, with the uncovering of Marines United, a secret Facebook group with more than 30,000 servicemen who non-consensually traded women's private photos. More protections for people who could be affected by revenge porn are desperately needed, but this method of protecting privacy has some people unnerved.