REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 15, 2009 — Today, Microsoft Corp. is donating a technology that it developed to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) to assist in finding and removing many of the worst known images of child sexual exploitation from the Internet. The technology, named PhotoDNA, was created by Microsoft Research and helps calculate the distinct characteristics of a digital image to match it to other copies of that same image. Microsoft is donating this technology to NCMEC, which will use PhotoDNA to enhance its own operations and to enable online service providers and others to better disrupt the online spread of the worst and most graphic images of child pornography known to NCMEC. Together, Microsoft and NCMEC hope to activate a larger movement to fight child sexual exploitation and are encouraging people to take action by participating in the campaign for A Childhood for Every Child to build public awareness.
“PhotoDNA is a powerful technology that will help combat online child pornography,” said Brad Smith, general counsel and senior vice president for Microsoft. “We are very pleased to donate PhotoDNA to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to support the battle against this horrific crime.”
NCMEC has worked for 25 years to help protect children from all forms of abuse, including efforts to reduce the availability of online child pornography and to rescue victims from the creators and consumers of those images. Since 2003, NCMEC has reviewed and analyzed almost 30 million photos and videos of child pornography, and it is projected that 9 million child pornography photos and videos will be reviewed and analyzed in the coming year. As a part of these efforts, NCMEC has worked with law enforcement to identify many of the worst images of child sexual abuse and exploitation — images that capture the physical penetration of a confirmed pre-pubescent child victim. With today’s donation, NCMEC can make PhotoDNA available to online service providers and others working with NCMEC to disrupt the ability of predators to use the Internet to exploit children or traffic in these graphic images of child pornography.
“The problem of child pornography has become epidemic; NCMEC’s Child Victim Identification Program reviews and assesses 250,000 child pornography images and videos per week, and the victims are getting younger and the abuse more brutal. To stop this tragedy, we need companies like Microsoft and technology like PhotoDNA to help limit the availability of the pictures and play a role in helping protect and prevent further distribution of these damaging images,” said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology works by creating a unique signature for a digital photograph, like a fingerprint, that calculates the essential characteristics of the image. That signature, also known as a “hash,” can then be compared with the digital signatures of other images to efficiently and reliably find matching signatures. Created by Microsoft Research and further developed by leading digital imaging expert Dartmouth College professor of computer science Hany Farid, PhotoDNA has been designed to be usable by online service providers and others to be able to identify matches across very large data sets. Unlike other common “hashing” technologies previously explored to help address this problem, PhotoDNA was designed to consistently match signatures even in cases where the image has been resized or similarly altered. These capabilities are critical for online service use, in light of the fact that billions of digital images are posted online every day and many of those services automatically resize images during the posting process.
“We appreciate the challenges service providers face in trying to stay a step ahead of criminals who use technology in their abuse of children,” said John Ryan, chief counsel at AOL. “As a member of the Technology Coalition and longtime supporter of NCMEC, we are pleased to partner with Microsoft to use powerful tools, like PhotoDNA, to help protect children from this exploitation and keep these abusive images from proliferating.”
“We have been working with the Technology Coalition and NCMEC to develop new technologies to combat the proliferation of child pornography, and Microsoft’s efforts and donation of PhotoDNA will continue to compel these efforts forward. We are excited about the possibilities PhotoDNA offers,” said Brooke Bratton, vice president and corporate counsel, United Online Inc.
Although there is great promise in PhotoDNA and authorities are working diligently to combat the distribution of child pornography online, neither technology nor law enforcement can solve this problem alone. Today, Microsoft and NCMEC are issuing a call to consumers, policy-makers and the online services industry to come together to help stamp out child pornography.
“Because law-abiding citizens will never see the photos of these children, there is a risk that these victims and the abuse they suffer will be ignored,” Allen said. “In support of this fight, we call on parents and concerned people everywhere to support A Childhood for Every Child on Dec. 16 and 17 by blogging, tweeting and posting to sites like Facebook, MySpace and Windows Live their happiest memory of childhood. Help us remind everyone that these children do exist, they need our help and childhood should be a wonderful — not terrifying — experience.”
More information on how to support the fight against online child abuse can be found at http://www.microsoftphotodna.com.
About the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Since it was established by Congress in 1984, the organization has operated the toll-free 24-hour national missing children’s hotline which has handled more than 2,423,800 calls. It has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 145,600 children. The organization’s CyberTipline has handled more than 763,180 reports of child sexual exploitation and its Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed more than 29,446,400 child pornography images and videos. The organization works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. To learn more about NCMEC, call its toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or visit its web site at www.missingkids.com.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.
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