Microsoft launches chat scanner to detect child sexual predators

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Microsoft will share a tool it uses on its Xbox gaming service to analyze online text chats and detect adults seeking to prepare and exploit children for sexual purposes.

Codenamed Project Artemis, the technique combs through historical messages and looks for indicative patterns and characteristics before assigning a probability score. This can then be used by companies to decide which conversations on their platforms should be looked at more closely by a human moderator, Courtney Gregoire, Microsoft’s chief digital security officer, wrote in a blog post.

Tech companies are working to stem the growing tide of child pornography and exploitation online, as malicious images and texts overwhelm moderators and private chat apps make detection more difficult. Industry companies reported 45 million online images of child sexual abuse in 2018, a record high, The New York Times reported in September.

Adult predators use built-in chat functions on popular video games and private messaging apps to groom children and solicit nude photos, sometimes masquerading as children themselves.

Microsoft’s so-called grooming detection technique promises to help bring this behavior under control with text communications, but it still leaves voice chat in multiplayer games like Fortnite unaddressed, which is another avenue for sexual predators. of children.

The project began in a November 2018 hackathon co-sponsored with two child protection groups that not only looked at new technological ideas, but also legal and political issues. Since then, Microsoft has developed the tools in collaboration with the companies behind the online video game Roblox and messaging app Kik, The Meet Group, which has social meeting apps like MeetMe and Skout, and Thorn, an organization at nonprofit co-founded by actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to fight child sexual abuse.

The team was led by Hany Farid, professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, who previously worked with Microsoft to create PhotoDNA, a tool used by 150 companies and organizations to find and report images of child sexual abuse. Farid has opposed the proliferation of end-to-end encryption in social and private messaging services, arguing that it makes it harder to detect and prevent child abuse.

From Friday, Thorn will manage the licenses for the Artemis project, which is based on Microsoft patents and is available free to qualifying online services, who can register by sending an email to [email protected] Microsoft said it is already using the technique for Xbox chats and is considering doing the same for Skype.



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