AT&T uses machine learning to detect foul language in telephone calls.

Oh, sorry, I got that headline wrong:

"Zoom says it uses machine-learning to detect nudity as virtual sex parties spread."

Like many social platforms, Zoom doesn't exactly want to be publicly known as the platform people are using to watch others masturbate -- even if that is exactly what some people are using it for. "Zoom's user policies explicitly prohibit any obscene, indecent, illegal, or violent activity or content on the platform," a spokesperson for the platform said. "We encourage users to report suspected violations of our policies, and we use a mix of tools, including machine learning, to proactively identify accounts that may be in violation." Execs at the platform did not respond to follow-up questions about what, exactly, these machine-learning tools are, or how exactly they would know if people were using the platform to watch each other masturbate en masse.

The Zoom spokesperson did note, however, that it is intended as a business tool, and that it would take a "number of actions" against people found to use it for "any activity that is harmful, obscene, or indecent, particularly as would be understood in the context of business usage," including "displays of nudity, violence, pornography, [and] sexually explicit material."

Heh heh, "business tool".

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4 Responses:

  1. tfb says:

    So I guess they've given up even pretending to have meaningful encryption now: not only do they not encrypt but they're actively snooping.

    But they're missing a trick here: surely they should be striking a deal with one of the porn-streaming sites and selling them the content of the 'interesting' video conferences they find.

    OK, they're probably already doing that.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Nobody in this space (multi party teleconferencing with PCs) does end-to-end encryption. Zoom's claim otherwise was always fraud (I'm sure they would pay lawyers to argue it was just a "misunderstanding" instead).

      The best options do decent transport security, so that a passive eavesdropper only learns whether people they're eavesdropping are participants. Zoom doesn't bother, it uses Electronic Code Book (every particular 16 bytes of encrypted data turns into some random seeming 16 bytes of data, but it'll always be the same 1:1 pairing, so like the fanciest "code" you might have learned to do in High School except 16 bytes instead of one letter at a time) for the data and metadata is unencrypted.

      Even if you are doing a good job, the data is unencrypted at the point where the multiplexing happens, and so that's where you'd do any "value add" whether that's an AI to ban wanking on the stream or a way to record everything and upload it to Youtube or (very popular in most US corporations) let completely ordinary unencrypted telephones join the conference.

      If you need multi party teleconferencing and this is unacceptable the least awful choice might be Jitsi, which is Free Software using WebRTC, and then paying for your own servers to run that multiplexing software rather than letting Jitsi's sponsors pay for your meetings. It works well enough in Chrome. But if the situation is that you personally don't trust the host's security you're out of luck.

      For one-to-one video chat you can get end-to-end encryption from the usual suspects like Signal, and so they're unable to tell what you're calling about or perhaps in Signal's case even which users are calling each other. Depending on how awful your networking is and whether you've told Signal that it's more important to hide your IP address from other people than from Signal's own systems, Signal may end up in the middle moving the mysterious encrypted data between two parties but they don't end up with unencrypted video or audio. However that approach just simply does not scale to many parties.

      • tfb says:

        I realise this (well, I realised it, eventually, a while ago after drawing some pictures). I had assumed, though, that Zoom were still in the 'yes, we could look at your content, but we're obviously a very ethical company and we would never do that unless forced to' stage, rather than the 'yes, we can look at your content, and of course we do because you might, you know, be doing sex and we want to watch that and I wonder if we can sell itcan't allow that because we live in a theocracy with problems with sex' stage.

        And every weekday I'm in the same house as a zoom call where there's a small but nonzero likelihood of information relevant to financial stability being discussed (not by the participant I live with, but she can't stop other people) and I know that in the same organisation and others like it there will be zoom conferences where the probability is not only nonzero but also not small. And I just wonder why someone doesn't wipe us all away and start again.

  2. Jackson says:

    Where's the business end of this business tool?
    Asking for business reasons of course.

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