In one of the more counter-intuitive proposals we’ve ever heard, Facebook wants you to send it sexually explicit photos of yourself in order to prevent revenge porn. Yes, I’m afraid you did hear that right.
"It’s demeaning and devastating when someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission, and we want to do everything we can to help victims of this abuse. We’re now partnering with safety organizations on a way for people to securely submit photos they fear will be shared without their consent, so we can block them from being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.”
The idea has been already been trialed in Australia and is being rolled out in the UK this week. Facebook says that the US and Canada also will be included in the trail program, which goes something like this:
- If you find a revenge photo of yourself on the internet then you can send a copy of it to Facebook.
- The image will be reviewed by "one of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team”. This team member will create a unique fingerprint of the photo known as a hash.
- This hash is stored in a database. If anyone else uploads the same image to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger (i.e. an image that has the same unique hash "fingerprint”) then it will be recognized and automatically removed.
Users can also pro-actively send photos they fear may be posted as revenge porn.
This idea does actually sound plausible at first glance, but has two major problems…
It is unlikely to work
No data about the trial in Australia has been made public yet, but Facebook says similar schemes have had success at countering the spread of terrorist propaganda and child abuse images.
The problem is that hashes are very specific to the data being hashed (which is somewhat the entire point). Change the data in any way, and you get a very different hash. According to the Guardian, the hashes are good enough not to "get fooled by simple alterations such as colour tweaks, watermarks or crops.”
We have not been able to confirm this statement elsewhere, but this is certainly not how hashing usually works: data goes into one side of a mathematical formula, and a unique hash (fingerprint) comes out of the other.
Indeed, the fact that even the very slightest change to the input data will create a very different hash is the cornerstone of internet security: hashes are used to ensure the integrity and authenticity of data. SHA hashes, for example, are used to verify the integrity of files you download from the internet.
And even if true, it would be easy enough to modify an image sufficiently enough to "fool” Facebook’s hash detection software. There are simply too many combinations of changes that could be made for hashing to be very effective.
Less technical problems also include the fact that by the time you discover revenge porn of yourself on the internet, it will likely already have been widely distributed and possibly ruined your life.
The proactive uploading of images, on the other hand, will only work if you actually have possession of the compromising images. In many revenge porn scenarios, this will simply not be the case.
Are you mad? This is Facebook!
Facebook’s entire business model is to hoover up as much personal data it can find about you in order to target ever more personalized ads at you.
We are talking about a company that only this week has been taken to court for reading messages, tracking peoples’ location, and accessing photos on phones. And not just without users’ consent, but of people who have never even signed up to Facebook!
Facebook is by its very nature antithetical to any notion of privacy, so the idea of deliberately handing it your most intimate photos is frankly bonkers.
If you have concerns about or have been a victim of revenge porn, then you should contact an organization such as one of those listed below:
- National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) (US)
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (US)
- Revenge Porn Helpline (UK)
- Office of the eSafety Commissioner (Australia)
- YWCA Canada(Canada)