Facebook taps Microsoft to fight child pornography

Facebook has adopted Microsoft's PhotoDNA technology to help fight child pornography.

Every day hundreds of millions of photos are shared online, and hiding among them are horrific images of children being sexually tortured and abused. Facebook, the world's largest social network, is the most popular website for uploading photos, with 50 billion uploaded as of July 2010.

While it's great for business to be the leader, it also means that the social network has billions of photos to monitor and make sure abide by the company's rules. Palo Alto today announced it will implement PhotoDNA on its network to further its commitment to keeping children from being victimized.

In late 2009, Microsoft Research, working with Dartmouth College professor Dr. Hany Farid, developed PhotoDNA, a technology that aids in finding and removing some of the "worst of the worst" images of child sexual exploitations from the Internet. Microsoft donated the PhotoDNA technology to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which established a PhotoDNA-based program for online service providers to help disrupt the spread of child pornography online.

Over the next year, Microsoft implemented a gradual rollout of PhotoDNA on Bing, Windows Live SkyDrive, including images posted to SkyDrive through Windows Live Hotmail. PhotoDNA identified horrific images on Microsoft services that the company would have never found otherwise. To date, Microsoft has evaluated more than 2 billion images on its services using the PhotoDNA signatures provided by NCMEC, leading to the identification of more than 1,000 matches on SkyDrive and 1,500 matches through Bing's image search indexing.

Now, Facebook has joined Microsoft in sublicensing the technology for use on its own network. The company is the first online service provider besides Microsoft to adopt the PhotoDNA technology. NCMEC is hoping that Facebook's decision to join will significantly expand the program's impact, not only because the website has 600 million users, but also because it may convince other companies to follow suit.

When the NCMEC identifies an image for inclusion in the PhotoDNA program, the technology will give Microsoft, Facebook, and other companies who adopt it in the future, the power to identify and remove that image from among billions of photos shared on their services. PhotoDNA gives companies the power to quickly and accurately (Microsoft claims a rate of zero false positives) scan billions of images looking for a match, without requiring people to manually review actual photos or be exposed to child abuse images.

Since 2002, NCMEC has reviewed and analyzed almost 49 million photos and videos of child pornography, including over 13 million in 2010 alone. The foundation has found that the victims in these images have progressively been getting younger as pedophiles prey on pre-verbal children who cannot ask for help. Of the more than 3,500 children depicted in commonly traded images who have been identified by law enforcement, 10 percent are infants and toddlers while 67 percent are prepubescent.

Many of these images still circulate on the Internet, even years or decades after the original crime occurred and the abuser has been brought to justice. PhotoDNA aims to break this cycle. If you want to learn more, there's a Facebook Live event at 3:00 PM ET tomorrow over on the Facebook DC page to discuss the problem of online child exploitation.

Show Comments