Facebook is asking users to upload their nude images to the network. The photos will then be reviewed by a Facebook staff member, who will determine whether or not they could be used as “revenge porn,” which is when a photo a nude or sexual photo is uploaded to the internet without the subject’s consent. Once the photos have been reviewed by a staff member, the system will create a hash of the image and delete the original image from the server. The hash will then be used to block any attempts to upload the images to Facebook.
While well-intentioned, this new feature presents a few issues with regards to online privacy. First, there’s the fact that each image has to be reviewed by a human being. While theoretically it would be better to have one’s personal images viewed by one person than by potentially millions, it seems unlikely that someone who is not already at risk of having their images exposed would be willing to upload them to Facebook. For most people, even one person outside of the person for whom the image was intended would be too many.
Second, while Facebook says they will be deleting the photos after the hash has been created, they aren’t saying how long the images will be stored on their servers before they are deleted. That means that hackers could theoretically access those images and distribute them before they are deleted from the Facebook server.
Then there’s the human element. While Facebook says that the staff members who will be reviewing the images will be “specially trained,” there is always the possibility of staff members obtaining the images and distributing them on their own. There have been high profile cases of tech employees accessing and misusing personal data, including allegations earlier this year that staff members at Lyft used passenger data to track people ex-romantic partners, among others. While it would be nice to believe that no tech employee would ever misuse extremely personal customer information, unfortunately we’ve already been shown that’s not realistic.
And finally, there’s the fact that Facebook doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to protecting customer privacy. The most recent and high profile case, of course, is the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of millions of Facebook users was used without their knowledge or consent. Facebook is a company that makes its money collecting and selling customer data. It’s hard to trust that a company with that business model would properly collect, store, and use information as sensitive as personal, intimate images.
So while this plan seems to be a well-intentioned attempt to protect users from people in their lives who would do them harm, it’s unlikely that many will agree to be a part of this new anti-revenge porn plan. Facebook’s supposed good intentions have not, after all, turned out to be so good in the past.