Facebook, with help from the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and technology from Microsoft, has started using automated means of detecting and removing child exploitation photos from the site. Facebook is the largest photo host on the web, by a huge margin, so it's natural place to start using the PhotoDNA technology which compares uploaded photos to a database of thousands of known child abuse images.
The amount of photos uploaded to Facebook each day is astonishing, 200 million images are added, and the site already stores tens of billions of photos.
Unfortunately, but expectantly, among the family vacation pics, or photos from the latest office bash, more sinister images are added as well.
Normally, these get flagged and removed quickly enough, but a much better solution would be to block them from showing up in the first place.
PhotoDNA is an image recognition technology developed by Microsoft. It can compare any image to a database of child exploitation photos gathered National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It can detect images even if they have been altered quite significantly.
"Our hope and belief is that Facebook will be just the first of many companies to use what has proven to be highly effective technology," Ernie Allen, chief executive of the NCMEC, said.
Of course, Facebook doesn't seem like the most obvious place for this kind of photos, after all, you need an account and then to get connected with friends for it to be of any use.
Microsoft started using the technology for Bing, Live SkyDrive and other Live products in 2009, blocking images from being uploaded or showing up in the searches.
Microsoft donated the technology to the NCMEC in the hope that other web services will start using it. Now, Facebook is announcing that it will deploy PhotoDNA for its site.
Facebook and Microsoft are already pretty close and have partnered on a number of products. Most recently, Microsoft announced that its Bing search engine will start incorporating Facebook data to personalize search results and rankings.