Microsoft, The Meet Group partner on 'grooming detection technique' for messaging apps - Technical.ly Philly

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Jan. 13, 2020 12:39 pm

Microsoft, The Meet Group partner on ‘grooming detection technique’ for messaging apps

The technology scans for online predators attempting to lure children for sexual purposes.
At Meet Group’s Center City offices.

At Meet Group's Center City offices.

(Courtesy photo)

Update: Mention of the ebook "7 Things You Didn't Know About Your Child's Digital Life" has been added. (1/14/20, 11:17 a.m.)

Tech giant Microsoft last week announced a new initiative called Project Artemis, a grooming detection technique it developed along with a handful of companies — including New Hope-based The Meet Group, known for gaming and dating apps such as MeetMe, Tagged and NextDate.

The technique works with text-based conversations, and will scan, evaluate and “rate” conversation characteristics to determine if the language being used could be predatory, Microsoft said. The rating will be sent to human moderators at participating companies for review, who can then identify threats and inform law enforcement.

Project Artemis came out of a 2018 Microsoft hackathon which was sponsored by the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the Child Dignity Alliance. This new technology is the result of 14 months of cross-industry work from Microsoft, along with gaming and messaging app makers The Meet Group, RobloxKik and others to help identify potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes and to operationalize an effective response.

The technique was built using an existing Microsoft patent called PhotoDNA which aides in the detection and reporting of child sexual exploitation images, the company said. Microsoft has been leveraging the technique in programs on its Xbox platform and is exploring its use in chat services, including Skype.

The licensing and adoption of the technique will be handled by Thorn, an anti-human trafficking tech nonprofit, Microsoft said.

The Meet Group addresses safety on its its site, and prohibits those under 18 from using the apps, stating: “Minors are not permitted on our platforms, and a minor attempting to log in would be blocked.”

Microsoft said that the National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenECPAT InternationalINHOPE and the Internet Watch Foundation all provided valuable feedback throughout the process of developing the technique.

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“Keeping children safe is a responsibility that we take incredibly seriously,” said Geoff Cook, CEO of The Meet Group, in a statement. “While we prohibit minors from using our apps, the broader threat of child sex predators exists across the social landscape. We are pleased to have been invited to partner with one of the world’s most respected companies on this important issue.”

Companies and services that want to test and adopt the technique can contact Thorn at antigrooming@thorn.org.

P.S. On the challenges of protecting kids online: The Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children just released a new ebook, “7 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Child’s Digital Life.” Read more about it and online safety in general in this Technical.ly Delaware story.

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