Is Facebook Really Asking For Nude Photos? Combatting Revenge Porn Will Take Some Creativity

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According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Facebook will fight revenge porn by asking for nudes. It may sound counterintuitive to some, but that's the pilot approach the company will take. The unconventional strategy of combatting non-consensual spreading of your private images will require a seemingly daunting strategy of sharing your nude with a Facebook employee.

The social network is reported to be testing the waters with a small Australian governmental agency in order to reduce revenge porn online. In Australia, the issue of revenge porn after a rocky relationship seems to be particularly flummoxing — research indicates one in four Australian women are victims of "physical or sexual violence" and/or "emotional abuse" from past or present intimate partners; young women can potentially become victims of non-consensual pornography after an abusive or manipulative relationship.

The partnership is reportedly set between Facebook and the Australian government's Office of eSafety. The agency's commissioner Julie Inman Grant said in a statement:

The initial reports of Facebook's plan to fight revenge porn emerged in April, detailing the company's prospective pilot program that would try to reduce the spreading of non-consensual pornography or revenge porn on its Messenger as well as Instagram.

In a guide titled "Not Without My Consent," the social network shared guidelines with its users on how they can tackle revenge porn, especially if they think they might be a potential target for it. The company partnered with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and offered Facebook users "emotional support, technical advice, and information to anyone who has encountered this type of non-consensual online abuse."

The test drive for the initiative may seem a little scary for anyone who cherishes their privacy. In order for the feature to work, a Facebook user will have to upload that nude in their Facebook Messenger. This is done by opening a chat box with yourself. Then the user has to flag their nude as "non-consensual intimate image." The network then creates a "hash" for your nude which acts like a fingerprint for your file. So, in case anyone tries to upload that particular nude of yours, the website will detect the hash and attempt to stifle its virtual distribution on the platform.

In a report by Vice's Motherboard, a Facebook spokesperson said that those nudes were being stored for the time being. And that's where this gets a little tricky: Information security experts say that giving your nude to Facebook to stop a nude from being shared means that you have to invest a lot of faith in the company — it's a particularly vexing privacy issue.

Digital forensics researcher Lesley Carhart told Vice that the act of giving your nude to Facebook is risky. "My speciality is digital forensics and I literally recover deleted images from computer systems all day — off disk and out of system memory. It's not trivial to destroy all trace of files, including metadata and thumbnails," Carhart said.

Deploying a human moderator's assessment for such a private visual image may seem terrifying but the company explains that in some cases, the human eye performs more sensitively than AI-centered photos detection programs.

But for now, we can only wait and see how Australia's Office of eSafety does with Facebook's anti-revenge porn plan. If it fares well, it might just work in the context of the United States where there are tentative plans to introduce federal laws against non-consensual pornography.