Microsoft Is Waging War Against Revenge Porn

Microsoft is taking a stand against one of the more vile behaviors on the Internet: revenge porn.

The software maker opened adedicated reporting website Wednesday for those who have fallen victim to the malicious posting online of sexually explicit photos or videos, often alongside sensitive private information like a phone number or address.

Once the posts are reported, Microsoft says, it will begin removing links to those pages from its Bing search engine and preventing access to such files when they are shared through its OneDrive cloud storage service and its online gaming service, Xbox Live.

“Clearly, this reporting mechanism is but one small step in a growing and much-needed effort across the public and private sectors to address the problem,” wrote Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft’s chief online safety officer, in a blog post.

Revenge porn has long been a tool for harassers and vindictive ex-partners to humiliate former lovers, or sometimes even complete strangers, on the Internet, sometimes leading to extortion attempts. Vague laws and inconsistent concepts of free speech across international borders have made it difficult to prompt law enforcement or site owners to remove the content. However, tech companies like Google and Microsoft, which dominate broad swaths of the Web around the globe, have begun stepping up the fight against the practice directly, as well as making it easier for victims to navigate the process of having the items taken down.

Last month, Google said it would soon begin removing links to revenge porn in its search engine. The search giant followed in the footsteps of Twitter, which in Marchset up new rules that prohibit the posting of images of nudity or sexual acts without the subject’s permission. A month before that, Reddit updated its privacy policy to forbid “involuntary pornography.”

Facebook, meanwhile, has a team of people dedicated to handling user complaints about sexually explicit images, as well as hate speech and other forms of harassment.

In the US, the removal of revenge porn can walk a fine line because of protections around free speech in the American legal system that do not exist elsewhere. Europe, for instance, has instituted a controversial “right to be forgotten,” under which people can ask that Google and other companies remove search results showing unwanted or outdated information that bubbles to the top of online queries.

Google said that its revenge porn removal does not violate any constitutionally protected rights and is focused solely on what it considers a criminal act similar in ways to identify fraud.

“This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results,” Amit Singhal, Google’s vice president for search said in the blog post.

Still, revenge porn may soon lose what little legal footing it has left. Nearly two dozen US states have laws criminalizing revenge porn, while US Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, has announced plans to introduce federal legislation Thursday that would criminalize the act across the country.

Tech companies say the fight is not over. The next step is making it even easier to remove revenge porn when it is hosted outside of the grasp of tech companies like Microsoft and Google, such as on a personal website

“It’s important to remember, for example, that removing links in search results to content hosted elsewhere online doesn’t actually remove the content from the Internet,” Beauchere wrote on Microsoft’s blog post. “Victims still need stronger protections across the Web and around the world.”

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