Facebook will use Microsoft tech to find child pornography

The social networking giant will analyze all images uploaded to its site

Facebook will use PhotoDNA, an image analysis technology co-invented by Microsoft, to find child pornography on its site, the company said on Thursday in a Youtube video.

The social networking giant will run PhotoDNA on all images uploaded to the site to help find and block images showing child pornography. The technology will also help Facebook report incidents to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the police, to allow them to take immediate action, according to Chris Sonderby, assistant general counsel at Facebook.

Microsoft worked with Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to develop PhotoDNA in 2009, and then freely licensed it to NCMEC for use in a program to combat the distribution of online child pornography. Microsoft itself began implementing PhotoDNA technology on Bing and SkyDrive, including images published to SkyDrive through Hotmail, it said in a blog post.

PhotoDNA works by creating a signature for every image, similar to a fingerprint, and comparing that to signatures of known images. The signature is created by first converting the image to black and white, resizing it and breaking it up into a grid of cells. In each cell changes in brightness are analyzed, and the signature is created from this information. The amount of data in each signature is small, which makes finding matches easier and "finding the needle in the haystack" possible, according to Microsoft.

To date, Microsoft has evaluated more than two billion images on its services using the PhotoDNA signatures provided by NCMEC, leading to the identification of more than 1,000 matches on SkyDrive and 1,500 matches through Bing's image search indexing.

Microsoft hopes that Facebook's adoption of PhotoDNA serves as a springboard for other online service providers to join NCMEC's PhotoDNA program, according to the blog post. Others are considering joining right now, it said.

The more companies that discover and start using these kinds of tools the better, according to a spokeswoman at World Childhood Foundation, a foundation that works to improve living conditions for vulnerable and exploited children. That Facebook uses it is especially good since so many people visit the site, she said.

On Friday, Facebook, the NCMEC and Microsoft will host an event at 3 p.m. Eastern Time detailing the work they are planning to do together.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Mikael Ricknäs

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