Facebook has an unusual request for Australian users who think they may be victims of revenge porn. It wants them to send their intimate photos through its Messenger app – to themselves – as part of a new pilot program to crack down on the problem.
Revenge porn is the term for the spread of intimate, nude or sexual images that are distributed without a person’s consent — and it is an epidemic in Australia. One in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 49 are affected, according to a recent study.
Facebook’s head of global safety shared details about its new pilot program with the Australian eSafety Commissioner’s Office and other experts in a blog post on Thursday.
The pilot works in collaboration with eSafety’s new online reporting portal announced in October, a part of a $4.8 million effort to crack down on the problem.
Here’s how it works: If a user suspects that they’re the target of revenge porn, they alert the eSafety commission. Next, they can send the image or images to themselves on Facebook Messenger so that Facebook can register and block them from being posted.
The Commissioner’s office notifies Facebook that the images are submitted. Then, Facebook reviews and “hashes” the image, which creates a numerical fingerprint of it that’s stored and used to prevent anyone from ever uploading the picture across Facebook, Messenger or Instagram.
“If someone tries to upload the image to our platform, like all photos on Facebook, it is run through a database of these hashes, and if it matches we do not allow it to be posted or shared,” the company said in a blog post.
The company said the program is a “small pilot” to explore “a protective measure that can help prevent a much worse scenario where an image is shared more widely.”
This program could be risky. But, said Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos in a tweet, “We are trying to balance against the serious, real world harm that occurs every day.”
Stamos also cautioned users, saying, “We are not asking random people to submit their nudes. This is a test to provide *some* option to victims to take back control.”