Microsoft launches a cloud version of its PhotoDNA tool to make it more accessible and help smaller companies join hands against the evils of child pornography.

Microsoft has announced a cloud variant of its PhotoDNA, a tool developed to combat child pornography from being uploaded on the Internet. The Redmond giant is now giving away this valuable tool for free, which is used by prominent social media giants including Facebook and Twitter.

The new cloud version of PhotoDNA now makes it easier for companies to use this technology, which earlier required the software to be uploaded directly to a company’s servers. In addition, it demanded the engineering expertise and cash funds to stay updated with this feature. Now these barriers have been removed by Microsoft, which would allow more companies to participate and eventually curb child pornography.

“Similarly, for social media and photo sharing companies, trying to stop the spread of online child sexual abuse photos is just as daunting until they have the right tools. About 720,000 of these illegal images are among the 1.8 billion pictures uploaded across the Internet each day, making it incredibly complicated for service providers to find and remove them — until now”, said Microsoft in a blog post. “Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology, a free service that helps identify and remove these photos, is now available in the cloud.”

The technology essentially works by using ‘hash’ matching technology, and cross checks them with photos of child sex abuse taken from organizations such as National Centre of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) by converting them into numerical values.

“It works by converting images into a grayscale format, creating a grid and assigning a numerical value to each tiny square. Those numerical values represent the “hash” of an image, or its “PhotoDNA signature.” The program protects user privacy in that it doesn’t look at images or scan photos; it simply matches a numerical hash against a database of known illegal images,’ explains Federico Gomez Suarez, senior project manager on PhotoDNA team.

Microsoft claims that this makes it possible for PhotoDNA to identify images of sexually victimized children even if they have been altered or modified to avoid detection by matching the ‘hash’ value set to millions of images.

Apart social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, who have been using this technology for years, smaller companies have also started using this technology in their efforts to combat child pornography. The new curated news app Flipboard along with chat network Kik have now started using the cloud version of PhotoDNA, says Microsoft.

“Initially, I personally verified images that were flagged by PhotoDNA and I never saw a false positive. If PhotoDNA says a photo is illegal, I believe it,” said David Creemer, head of Flipboard’s Platform Engineering to CNN.

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