PhotoDNA Technology Gains A Major Advocate; Protecting Kids Online

Photo DNA

During a Facebook DC Live event, partners from Microsoft, NCMEC and Dartmouth College gathered to promote the fact that Facebook would now be using this sophisticated technology on their photo databases. In 2009, Microsoft Research teamed with Professor Hany Farid from Dartmouth College to develop PhotoDNA, a technology to help identify and remove pornographic images of children from the Internet.

The growth of the Internet has contributed to the ease at which exploitative images can be copied and distributed to other parties. Removing the original source image does nothing to combat the thousands of copied versions still in circulation. Katie relates the story of a woman who had been victimized years ago calling the Attorney’s General office where Katie worked, looking for some resolution to finding and removing images.  At the time there was no solution other than coming across them through investigations. Now there is a technological way to make the daunting task more realistic. This PhotoDNA technology breaks the circle of re-victimizing the children over and over again as the images are circulated on the web.

The technology extracts a “digital signature”, or using the genetics theme a strand of DNA, from the original image and can compare other photographs to determine the likelihood of a match.  Once a match has been identified, the image can be removed and the matter can be turned over to law enforcement professionals. The technology was donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which since 2002 has reviewed and analyzed over 49 million photographs and videos of child pornography. Microsoft has tested and deployed the technology on Bing, Skydrive and Hotmail, and now can include Facebook, one of the leading photo sharing services in the world. NOTE: During the podcast recording, we were unclear based upon the documentation whether the statistics quoted were discoveries of images found on Facebook or other resources.  We now have clarification that Microsoft has uncovered 1,000 matches on Skydrive and 1,500 through Bing’s Image Search that would have been undiscovered without the PhotoDNA technology. The long range goal is to get many more photo sharing services to incorporate this technology, in an attempt to eradicate these heinous images of children that exploit their victims over and over again.

School’s Out

The technology is everywhere, mobility allows for greater connectivity, and the bad guys don’t take the summer off. The use of computers and the internet will most likely rise across the country while the kids are spending time outside of the classroom in the coming months.  Make sure that there have been ground rules set for how computers will be used by each member of the household. Also, if the family is on the road for a vacation and accessing the internet from free wifi spots along the way, make sure to be connecting to sites via HTTPS settings whenever possible.  Without that secure connection authentication can be intercepted by anyone using that same hotspot.  Here is a good article with more detailed advice for staying safe on public wifi access. Katie likes to reinforce the “Buddy System” for cross promoting safe internet practices among families. Parents could get together to discuss the expectations for their kids as they visit from house to house, so the computer in one home is not used for disallowed activities at another.  This will also simply generate the conversation that we so often advise. It’s never too early to begin discussing the use of computers and the Internet.

Zuck Wants Kids Under 13

It came as a very big surprise last week when the Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg was interpreted to have said that he wanted to have kids under 13 years of age allowed to have accounts on his social network.  This of course sent a shockwave through the online safety community, COPPAadvocates, and any other concerned citizen who understands the challenges of keeping kids safe on social networks. However, at the eG8 Conference in France, he was able to clarify his statements and reiterate his point that education is going to be greatly influenced by online social networking, and that children at a young age should be given instruction on how to interact with these tools.  It is not his intention right now to have kids under 13 join Facebook.

Internet Safety Tip

Katie suggests that parents bookmark all of the websites that are appropriate for their kids.  On the household computer that is placed in the living room area, (so that it can be used safely under the watchful eye of careful adults – right?), kids should be able to quickly access the websites that have been agreed upon through browser bookmarks.  As Katie points out, the less need for them to be searching and trying to find things on their own, the less likelihood of stumbling across something they shouldn’t.

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