It’s a radical solution to a growing problem, but Facebook’s idea is certainly worth entertaining, even if it presents obvious problems.
Everyone is familiar with at least one instance of intimate photos ending up online without their consent. Even celebrities are not immune and their leaked images keep tabloids well-fed.
For most users, the release of such private images — revenge porn — can feel like the end of the world and, in fact, a few resulting suicides have brought the issue very much into the mainstream.
That’s why Facebook came up with an interesting approach aiming to prevent intimate photos from being published sans consent. The idea the social network is currently working on is that users send the photos they are concerned about to the company itself.
The idea the social network is currently working on is that users send the photos they are concerned about to the company itself.
Yes, you heard right. Facebook’s plan is to encrypt private images using hashing, so that if someone sends or publishes that image, the service can detect the image by comparing its hash sum to those in Facebook’s database and interfere with its transmission.
Australia’s e-safety commissioner told ABC News how the scheme is supposed to work. Facebook will suggest that users send their intimate photos through Facebook Messenger — to themselves. The images, in being sent, will be hashed. Subsequently, if someone tries to upload an image that has the same hash value, it won’t be visible to anyone. Facebook claims that the end-to-end encryption used in Messenger (in the mobile app, not on desktops) ensures the photos will be secure, because it excludes intermediaries and that the images themselves won’t be stored, making them immune to theft.
Facebook has announced the pilot program in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada so far, so we don’t yet know how effective it will actually be. On the one hand, it has real potential as a solution to this privacy threat.
On the other hand, questions remain about how we can be sure that it won’t become a way of encrypting someone else’s public photos. Because end-to-end encryption doesn’t allow Facebook to look at the photos, it won’t be able to use machine-learning algorithms to distinguish, for example, a nude photo from a non-nude one.
And moreover, a lot of people still have concerns about providing their photos to a third party, be it Facebook or any other company, and about the security of any technology they don’t know much about — especially in case of Facebook, where several users’ private photos have already been leaked.
This content was created in partnership with our friends at Kaspersky Lab!