NCMEC unveils tool to help minors fight online spread of explicit images
Service lets minors assign hashes to automatically and proactively take down images on participating platformsBy Daniel Sims
In brief: The spread of intimate images, particularly those of minors, is one of the most serious issues surrounding social media. Meta and a few other groups have started offering people a method to stem the unwanted proliferation of such images, promising total privacy.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) announced this week that it's collaborating with a few online platforms on a tool to help teens and others stop their intimate pictures from being shared. The measure intends to take a more preventative approach versus typical reporting systems.
Normally, when someone wants to stop an explicit image of themselves from spreading online, they have to search for instances of it and report each one. For many, the process is likely laborious, humiliating, and ultimately ineffective due to how quickly such content spreads.
Take It Down is a platform that tags such images with digital fingerprints so participating services – currently including Facebook, Instagram, OnlyFans, Yubo, and PornHub – can automatically detect and remove them. The method has limits but could be more effective than typical measures due to its proactive and automated nature.
If a user is afraid an explicit image or video might be shared online, they can select it and head to the "Get Started" page on the Take It Down website. From there, the service will generate a hash which it will use to identify exact copies, which participating platforms will remove upon detection.
The tool is primarily for minors, but adults can also use it for content created when they were minors. It's also accessible to anyone in the world.
Those worried about sharing their images with Take It Down should note that assigning a digital fingerprint doesn't upload the content. It remains solely on their device, the staff operating Take It Down can't view it, and the hash can't be used to reproduce it. Additionally, creating a hash doesn't require submitting any personal information.
However, to create a hash for a video or picture, it must still be on the user's device. Furthermore, it can't stop the spread of images that have already been uploaded, but it can slow it down. Take It Down also can't penetrate encryption. Additionally, users shouldn't try to upload pictures themselves after submitting them to the service since it could tag them and lead to social media bans.
The NCMEC has additional services for those who want to fight the spread of their intimate images. The organization also operates a CyberTipline for people being threatened regarding explicit images. Anyone who needs mental health services can head to the NCMEC's emotional support portal.