Why Does Facebook Want Your Nudes?

  • Wes Kohler
  • Nov 8, 2017 2:00PM

Today in tech-related news, Facebook is asking you to send them your nude photographs in order to prevent them from being posted on Facebook. Another day, another privacy-violating story to report out of the tech sector which seems intent on having every piece of information possible about its users. Not content with our news consumption patterns, list of friends and acquaintances, or even the daily thoughts we post as ‘statuses’, Facebook now covets our genitals.

Actually, it’s not that simple. In this instance – and don’t hold me to this – Facebook may actually be attempting to protect the interests of its users.

As always, Facebook tells us not to worry about the potential unintended consequences of their proposed revenge porn prevention program. According to the company, they would not be storing the nude photographs, only creating a link that would algorithmically identify the photograph. This photo’s ‘digital fingerprint’ would then prevent a bitter ex from posting the same image on either Facebook or Instagram. As counterintuitive as it may seem to ‘protect’ yourself from being the victim of revenge porn via Facebook by sending the nudes via Facebook’s Messenger platform willingly, it actually makes some sense.

It’s fair to be skeptical. I sure was. For instance, are so many people routinely uploading former ex’s naked photographs to the social network that, as this ‘protection’ program suggests, concerned users should preemptively allow Facebook to detail the properties of their nude body under the guise of preventing future acts of ‘revenge’ with said photos?

The test versions of the program are being tried in four countries. The details of the program, which is being rolled out in Australia under the guidance of the nation’s e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, help explain why such a drastic step is necessary to combat ‘revenge porn’. As outlined by Ms. Grant, the process for ‘protecting’ oneself from a particularly bitter ex who happens to be in possession of some lewd nudes would go as such:

'If you're worried your intimate photos will end up on Instagram or Facebook, you can get in contact with the e-Safety Commissioner. They might then tell you to send the images to yourself on Messenger.

Once the image is sent via Messenger, Ms Inman Grant said Facebook would use technology to "hash" it, which means creating a digital fingerprint or link.’ (Australia Broadcasting Corp.)

But, whether or not you think giving Facebook pictures of your nude-self is worth preventing a bitter ex from flashing your most private parts to their social network, Facebook will have a digital record of your nude or semi-nude body. For some, the basis of this idea will be a non-starter, despite privacy assurances.

‘"They're not storing the image, they're storing the link and using artificial intelligence and other photo-matching technologies," she said.

"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."’

It’s very possible that Facebook, along with its recently acquired company Instagram, are trying to combat scandals and truly protect its users. A scandal involving Marines utilizing a Facebook group to share nude and semi-nude photographs of female soldiers brought significant negative publicity to the company. And, if an ex is in fact in possession of a nude photograph that is likely to be posted for all their Facebook or Instagram network to see, there is little that the potential victim can do to stop them. There is validity to the idea of Facebook being able to recognize the features of that image and preemptively prevent its upload.

The system Facebook implemented in April which allowed for more immediate reporting and removal of ‘revenge porn’-like content from the site has some flaws. Principally, the ease of screen-capture technology (command + Shift + 4 for Mac users is all it takes) means that even once a photo is removed from Facebook, it could exist on the devices of countless Facebook and Instagram users. This is the ‘viral’ nature of the internet that, in theory, makes a preemptive solution to revenge porn posts necessary.

That said, the exchange of nudes and the trustworthiness of the recipient seems like a personal matter, not one in which Facebook – a company with an already spotty record when it comes to privacy and user manipulation – should need to intervene. Perhaps that’s naïve or old school, even willfully ignorant to the nature of social media and increasingly sexualized young people. But Facebook has admitted to manipulating users’ emotions through their own News Feeds, just one instance that has painted the tech giant as far from a benevolent caretaker. Yet, they consistently maintain otherwise, rendering their statements, at times, the stuff of comedy.

‘Antigone Davis, head of global safety at Facebook, said ”the safety and well-being of the Facebook community is our top priority”’

Is user safety really your top priority, Antigone? Or is it ever-expanding means of data collection, and the value that such data holds to your own company and others?

Further, it has been pointed out that users themselves will still have to report, and now send in their own image of, potential revenge porn. For those who are not on Facebook or Instagram, or unaware that their image is going to be posted, this new algorithm is essentially useless.

While you do own your own photos, according to Facebook policy, the Social Network retains “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license” to your photos, as per their guidelines. The best solution, in this instance, is probably just to refrain from taking nude photographs, or if not, make them as classy as possible. Trust should be handed out sparingly, whether to a significant other requesting a digital version of your buck-naked body or to the largest social network on the planet.