Microsoft PhotoDNA Cloud Service is helping to keep the internet safe for children

Microsoft Cybercrime Center

The internet is an amazing resource that most people can’t live without. It enhances our lives in way we couldn’t have imagined just ten years ago. Unfortunately, there are areas of the web that are less than wholesome. It is these areas that Microsoft is trying to tackle with PhotoDNA.

The technology behind PhotoDNA enables online services such as the popular virtual magazine creator Flipboard to weed out less than desirable images such as child sexual abuse photos. To manually do this would be too time consuming so Flipboard has been using PhotoDNA to detect these offensive images amongst the millions of images that are used on the service every day. In addition to Flipboard, more than 70 companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter use the cloud based technology to eliminate illegal images.

Previous methods could be fooled if a perpetrator changed the image slightly; such as altering the image size. The image had to be identical to a known illegal image to be caught on the net. However, instead of looking at the image as a whole, PhotoDNA grayscales the image and divides it into squares for comparison. This method provides much more accurate results while at the same time keeping the identity of the people in the photo private.

Another example of how PhotoDNA is used is in the popular Canadian chat network, Kik. Kik is the first company in Canada to deploy PhotoDNA. Heather Galt, Kik’s head of privacy says of the technology; “It’s so fast and does its work so efficiently that it’s been implemented with no negative impact whatsoever on the experience of users”.

Courtney Gregoire, senior attorney in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit hopes that more companies will use the technology as it would eliminate many offensive images from the internet and says that his hope is a, “much wider-scale deployment of this important technology to better protect these victims of sexual abuse”.

The fact that Microsoft is offering this service for free to everyone, including its competitors, shows how serious it is about stopping these images appearing on the Net. Do you think this is a step in the right direction or should more be done? Let us know in the comments below.

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