Microsoft boosts fight vs child porn with cloud-based image recognition system

B9318003201Z.1_20150707222459_000_GU2B9OT2I.1-0Microsoft is taking the fight against child pornography one step further – with a new free cloud-based image recognition system.
With the new PhotoDNA Cloud Service, Microsoft promises to help find and remove online images that exploit children.
“Finding these known child sex abuse images in that huge universe is like finding a needle in a haystack… We needed an easier, more scalable way to identify and detect these worst of the worst images … and that’s how the concept for PhotoDNA in the cloud was born,” said Courtney Gregoire, a senior attorney at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit.
According to the software giant, it may be hard to stop the spread of online child sexual abuse photos without the right tools.
It said some 720,000 such illegal images are among the 1.8 billion pictures uploaded across the Internet each day, “making it incredibly complicated for service providers to find and remove them — until now.”
Microsoft said the cloud-based system gives companies like Flipboard – a popular social magazine that lets its tens of millions of monthly users share and curate content from the Web and social media — “a powerful way to help protect users and young victims while helping make the Internet safer for everyone.”
Flipboard’s head of Platform Engineering David Creemer said the Flipboard community “needs to trust that we do everything possible to stop the spread of illegal content, especially images of child sexual abuse.”
“Manually searching for a handful of illegal images among the millions uploaded and curated every day is simply an impossible task, so we looked for a solution and found it in Microsoft’s PhotoDNA. Together we built an effective service that scales and works great,” he added.
1,000 times faster
Mike McCarter, director of Online Operations at Microsoft, said Microsoft also enhanced the algorithm used to find illegal images.
This made PhotoDNA 1,000 times faster than previous versions.
“This is a net to catch these illegal images. And the wider the net, the better,” said Larry Zitnick, principal researcher for Microsoft Research who helped develop the technology in the beginning.
Facebook, Twitter
So far, Microsoft said PhotoDNA has helped detect millions of illegal photos on the Internet, and is being used by more than 70 companies and organizations including as Facebook and Twitter.
But the on-premise version required time, money and technical expertise to get it up and running and keep it updated.
With the new PhotoDNA Cloud Service, such potential hurdles are removed for smaller companies and other organizations that want to let users upload content while ensuring the integrity of their platforms.
Original photoDNA
Work on PhotoDNA started in 2009, when Microsoft partnered with Dartmouth College to help solve a problem facing the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
At the time, many of the same images of sexually abused children were being circulated repeatedly on the Internet.
“While it was possible to identify illegal images if they were exact matches of known sexual abuse photos, perpetrators could keep the photos from being detected by changing them slightly — adjusting the size or making a small mark on them, for example,” Microsoft said.
But with PhotoDNA, a “hash” matching technology can identify known illegal photos even if someone has altered them.
The system converts images into a grayscale format, creating a grid and assigning a numerical value to each tiny square.
Also, the system protects user privacy as it does not look at images or scan photos – it merely matches a numerical hash against a database of known illegal images.
With the technology, companies can compare millions of photos against a hash set of child sexual abuse images created by NCMEC and derived from the “worst of the worst” child pornography images uploaded to the CyberTipline by electronic service providers.
“Certainly, it’s important from a victims’ rights perspective; these are crime scene photographs,” says John Shehan, vice president of NCMEC’s Exploited Child Division.
“Microsoft providing this service is immense,” he added.
“It was exciting to see the work we were doing was actually going to make a difference,”  said Federico Gomez Suarez, a senior project manager on Microsoft’s PhotoDNA team.
Kik
Kik, a popular teen chat network, became the first company in Canada to use the PhotoDNA Cloud Service, to detect “exploitive profile photos as they’re being uploaded.”
Once it detects such photos, it can immediately remove them and report them to law enforcement, then remove the user’s account.
“It is allowing us to identify and remove illegal content, so it’s been a huge plus from our perspective in helping keep our users safe,” said Heather Galt, Kik’s head of privacy.
With more than 200 million users globally, Kik needs help from automation – and PhotoDNA lets it identify known illegal images – without causing any delay for users sharing content.
Source: GMA News