Baltimore Sun

‘Take It Down’ tool lets teens remove their explicit images

- By Barbara Ortutay

“Once you send that photo, you can’t take it back,” goes the warning to teenagers, often ignoring the reality that many teens send explicit images of themselves under duress, or without understand­ing the consequenc­es.

A new online tool aims to give some control back to teens, or people who were once teens, and take explicit images and videos of themselves off the internet.

Called “Take It Down,” the tool is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and funded in part by Meta Platforms, the owner of Facebook and Instagram.

The site lets anyone anonymousl­y — and without uploading any images — create what is essentiall­y a digital fingerprin­t of the image. This fingerprin­t (a unique set of numbers called a “hash”) then goes into a database and the tech companies that have agreed to participat­e in the project remove the images from their services.

Now, the caveats.

The participat­ing platforms, as of this week, are Meta’s Facebook and Instagram,

Yubo, OnlyFans and Pornhub, owned by Mindgeek. If the image is on another site, or if it is sent in an encrypted platform such as WhatsApp, it will not be taken down.

In addition, if someone alters the original image — for instance, cropping it, adding an emoji or turning it into a meme — it becomes a new image and thus need a new hash. Images that are visually similar — such as the same photo with and without an Instagram filter, will have similar hashes, differing in just one character.

“Take It Down is made specifical­ly for people who have an image that they have reason to believe is already out on the Web somewhere, or that it could be,” said Gavin Portnoy, a spokesman for the NCMEC. “You’re a teen and you’re dating someone and you share the image. Or somebody extorted you and they said, ‘if you don’t give me an image, or another image of you, I’m going to do X, Y, Z.’”

Portnoy said teens may feel more comfortabl­e going to a site than to involve law enforcemen­t, which wouldn’t be anonymous, for one.

“To a teen who doesn’t want that level of involvemen­t, they just want to know that it’s taken down, this is a big deal for them,” he said. NCMEC is seeing an increase in reports of online exploitati­on of children. The nonprofit’s CyberTipli­ne received 29.3 million reports in 2021, up 35% from 2020.

Meta, back when it was still Facebook, attempted to create a similar tool, although for adults, back in 2017. It didn’t go over well because the site asked people to, basically, send their (encrypted) nudes to Facebook — not the most trusted company even in 2017. The company tested out the service in Australia for a brief period, but didn’t expand it to other countries. In 2021, it helped launch a tool for adults called StopNCII — or nonconsens­ual intimate images, aka “revenge porn.” That site is run by a U.K. nonprofit, the UK Revenge Porn Helpline, but anyone around the globe can use it.

Many tech companies already use this hash system to share, take down and report to law enforcemen­t images of child sexual abuse. Portnoy said the goal is to have more companies sign up.

 ?? ARMANDO FRANCA/AP ?? A young man checks his phone Jan. 30 by the Tagus River in Portugal.
ARMANDO FRANCA/AP A young man checks his phone Jan. 30 by the Tagus River in Portugal.

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