When can a photo be trusted?

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Truth in Social Media: Starting at the Source

In this blog and through tools like FourMatch we’ve introduced methods to investigate whether or not a particular image is trustworthy. A particular challenge with investigating images, however, is that photos distributed through social media tend to be saved, resaved, and degraded multiple times, often obscuring the very information needed to conduct an effective analysis. After focusing on tools for investigators, we began to wonder what would happen if we turned the problem on its head. What if social media users could certify their images before they shared them online? What if there was a public place for them to store and share these certified images so that downstream viewers could know more definitively when an image could be trusted?

Well, we’re getting ready to find out whether in fact social media users can be motivated to take on this responsibility. We’re putting the finishing touches on a new website, izitru.com, that will make it as quick and painless as possible—and free—to certify original images. Simply upload an image to izitru, receive a trust rating, and then share the resulting image link as you normally would. Anyone visiting that link will immediately see the test results displayed prominently along with the image.

The izitru site relies on some of the same technology in our FourMatch product, but it’s married with a variety of additional forensic tests that are all oriented towards identifying unmodified originals from digital cameras. In light of the myriad ways images can be modified on smartphone-based cameras, it’s a particular challenge for us to get our testing logic just right. We want to give as many valid images as possible a high trust rating while making sure that no modified images manage to squeak by. Moreover, we need to continue to build up our camera signature database so that we can more easily and reliably certify images from a broader array of devices. That’s where you come in.

As a regular reader of this blog, you probably have more than a passing interest in image verification. Therefore, we’d love to have you kick the tires on our new site before we announce it more broadly to the public. Upload some images from whatever cameras you use. Try uploading both modified and unmodified images. Do you get the results you expect? If not, let us know. There’s a handy “challenge” button on the site that you can use to inform us about any test result that doesn’t seem quite right.

With increasing concern about the overmanipulation of images, and doubts about the veracity of information spread through sites like Twitter, is the time ripe for a service that helps people to share more truthful photos? We’ll soon see. While we prepare for a more formal launch, I hope you’ll visit izitru.com and put the site through its paces.

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Reader Comments (1)

After reading this article, I was wondering if you might find it worthwhile to offer a service to Scientific Journals to be part of their Peer review process? Where in you guys vet the papers supporting images to a specified degree. The journals can remain focused on the paper and its thesis, but 4&6 offers support for manipulation of the imagery?


[It's an interesting idea, but at this point we've focused more on providing technology than on providing consulting services. In the case of the retractions mentioned in the article you cite, many if not most of the images in question were likely captured with standard digital cameras, which means that Nature could decide to make use of a service like izitru to certify automatically that images haven't been manipulated. To date, however, many of these journals seem content to issue retractions after the fact rather than make any substantial changes to their procedures to catch these types of problems in advance. - Kevin]

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGam

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