If a shady looking character told you to give him pictures of yourself naked, would you? How about a video? What if he told you that it was for your own good? Even if you have less sense than one of the rocks in Kim Jong-un’s head, you wouldn’t do it.
Now what if Facebook asked you for nudes? According to The Verge, the social media giant is doing just that, piloting a program in partnership with Australia’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner that has been asking users from Down Under to send in risqué pictures of themselves.
It’s all on the up and up—at least in terms of motivation. The idea is to thwart a jilted lover from doing their ex the dirty on Facebook and Instagram. The specific target: revenge porn, or the practice of posting sexually explicit photos and videos in a way that will ensure friends and family see it—on social media.
How the Facebook Program Works
If there’s a compromising picture of you floating around, and you have a digital copy of it, you can send it to Facebook and the company will add it to a list of images that cannot be posted on the site.
To get this protection in place, users are instructed to send explicit pictures and videos that they fear may be posted by a vengeful ex to Facebook via Messenger, which offers end-to-end security—a much safer way to move explicit media than, for instance, email—but like everything else online may not be failsafe.
Once in Facebook’s possession, the digital file is hashed to create a digital footprint, one that can be read by the same artificial intelligence-based technologies that Facebook uses to identify photographs of users. Once the picture or video is in this catalog, it cannot be posted. The content is not stored by Facebook.
Oh, and worth bearing in mind: it only works if the user sends in the original file. There are questions regarding the possibility that small changes made to a copy of the original file will be enough to trick the AI into greenlighting it. Also: this is a pilot program involving what many consider the most sensitive personal information.
On the reassuring side of things, a similar tactic has already been implemented to stop the proliferation of revenge porn media after it has been reported and identified as such by Facebook. The program will soon be rolled out in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
What If It Doesn’t Work?
Breaches keep happening apace. Compromises are still commonplace, and zero-day exploits continue to make the nightly news.
Are you really comfortable providing sexually explicit photos and video of yourself to a company headed by a guy who, a few year back, proclaimed that privacy was dead?
Say it’s a buggy night in July. If you open a door to get a better angle on a hard-to-shut window that needs closing, what have you actually accomplished?
In the realm of keeping things digital safe, it makes no difference if a household name like Facebook or Google is behind a request for sensitive personal information or the request comes by way of a mom-and-pop sized digital presence—that is, so long as you don’t send anything.
The safest assumption you can make is that pretty much every player in the cyber-sphere could potentially be that shady character asking for nudes.
Consider the recent compromise at Equifax that affected 145.5 million people. Or closer to the story at hand: Ashley Madison, the site where people went to cheat on their significant others. The latter figures here and matters because Ashley Madison specifically claimed to disappear files that users paid to have deleted only to find out that the company didn’t do it.
Data breaches are the third certainty in life, right behind death and taxes, and all the best intentions in the world do nothing for the people exposed by the 4.2 billion files that got leaked in 2016 alone.