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Facebook wants you to upload your nude photos — to help fight revenge porn

Facebook is partnering with the Australian government to pilot a technology that helps combat revenge porn.
Facebook is partnering with the Australian government to pilot a technology that helps combat revenge porn. Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is testing a new way to combat revenge porn in Australia: it involves uploading your nude photo or video directly to Messenger.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the idea is to upload intimate photos before an abuser or hacker has a chance to share them on Facebook or Instagram without your consent.

READ MORE: Woman sues Facebook for $123 million over ‘revenge porn’

According to the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), Facebook is piloting the technology in partnership with the Australian government in order to deter online harassment.

“We see many scenarios where maybe photos or videos were taken consensually at one point, but there was not any sort of consent to send the images or videos more broadly,” Australia’s safety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant told ABC.

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How does it work?

If there is a photo or video out there you are worried will be shared without your consent, Australians can contact the e-Safety commissioner. The organization will then tell you to send the image to yourself on Messenger.

“It would be like sending yourself your image in an email, but obviously this is a much safer, secure end-to-end way of sending the image without sending it through the ether,” Inman Grant said.

READ MORE: 1 in 25 people are victims of ‘revenge porn’ new study says

Once the nude image is uploaded, Facebook will use technology to “hash it,” which is essentially giving it a digital fingerprint.

“They’re not storing the image. They’re storing the link and using artificial intelligence and other photo-matching technologies. So if somebody tried to upload that same image, which would have the same digital footprint or hash value, it will be prevented from being uploaded,” she said.

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If it works, then the photo or video will never show up on Facebook, even if a hacker or an ex-partner tries to upload it.

Australia is one of four countries taking part in this pilot project, Facebook’s head of global security, Antigone Davis told ABC.

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READ MORE: Facebook introduces new tools to combat ‘revenge porn’

Back in April, Facebook took steps aimed at combating revenge porn in Canada and the U.S., allowing users to flag an image they suspect was posted without consent.

It’s not known if the new pilot project in Australia will come to Canada or the U.S.

Global News reached out to Facebook but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Is this safe?

Kirsten Thompson, a cybersecurity and data lawyer, said Facebook may have a difficult time selling this idea to the public.

“The naked images are going to be sensitive information, so the user will probably need to express some consent on this, like clicking a box,” she said.

READ MORE: Google will honour requests to remove revenge porn

She said if it’s done right, it could be safe.

“The photo’s information you upload is harvested and numbers are stored — but not the image itself,” she said.

The photo or video is reduced to a series of numbers, which is compared to another image, like mathematical matching.

So if hackers were able to access this information from Facebook, Thompson said all they would see is a bunch of numbers that would be meaningless.

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“But the rest depends on Facebook’s security controls around this. Some information is more valuable for hackers, and hashed photos could be one of them.”

She does give Facebook credit for the initiative.

“Revenge porn is a huge problem and Facebook could be held liable for it, so they are trying to do something.”

According to a 2016 study by the Data & Society Research Institute, one in 25 people have either been victims of revenge porn threats or posts, and 93 per cent of victims report significant emotional distress afterwards.

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