As part of its new nationwide reporting portal to combat revenge porn, Australia is partnering with Facebook to let users preemptively block uploads of “intimate” pictures and videos on the platform—by sending the images in question to Facebook. Australia is the first country to pilot the new program. A startling one in five Australians report having intimate photos shared without their consent.
As a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo, users worried about intimate pictures leaking (after a breakup or a hack of their cloud account, for example) can fill out an online form on the official site of Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. They’ll then be asked a series of questions about the photos, including where they’re currently hosted and whether they want to involve the police.
From there, the eSafety Commissioner’s office will notify Facebook of the report. Users are then asked to send themselves the intimate photos in Facebook Messenger. Facebook’s community operations team will then “hash” the image, essentially giving it a digital fingerprint used to block it from being uploaded to Facebook proper, posted on Instagram or sent in chats via the Messenger app.
“They’re not storing the image, they’re storing the link and using artificial intelligence and other photo-matching technologies,” Australia’s e-Safety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, explained to ABC Australia. “So if somebody tried to upload that same image, which would have the same digital footprint or hash value, it will be prevented from being uploaded.”
Crucially, the hash system blocks the images from being uploaded in chats and private groups. In March, investigative reporting uncovered a secret, 30,000-member Facebook group where Marines shared nude photos of servicewomen. Sharing revenge porn in private groups adds a new layer of challenge because the victim may have no idea the pictures are being circulated.
Facebook told Gizmodo it already uses the hash system to prevent previously reported non-consensual photos from being re-uploaded, but this appears to be the first time users can select images to be banned before they even show up on the social network. As of now, Australia is the only country working with the company to preemptively hash and block revenge porn, but Facebook confirmed that it’s looking to spread the program further. Similar American initiatives to empower victims of revenge porn include the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and Without My Consent.