A Japanese company is making an app that automatically deletes nude photos from children’s phones, in an effort to protect them from sexual exploitation by online predators.
Using AI, the app can recognize photos of bare genitals, lower abdomens, and chests. Once the image is detected and erased, it sends an alert to the minors’ guardians informing them of the photograph.
The app, currently in beta testing, was developed by the startup Smartbooks last month with the help of Fujita Health University in Japan’s central Aichi Prefecture and the prefecture's Nakamura police station.
The Aichi police last year tapped the university for help to combat sexual exploitation of children in the country.
The issue of child sexual abuse drew increased attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization warned parents that children were spending more time sheltering at home and could be at greater risk of sexual exploitation online. Following such reports, several nations have moved to beef up legislation to combat such abuse.
Japanese politicians are similarly taking note. In September, Japan’s Ministry of Justice urged lawmakers to ban adults from seducing minors, often known as grooming.
Japanese police data found that 1,811 children were victims of crimes committed on social media in 2021, the highest on record. About a third of these cases violated Japan’s law on “child pornography,” and included instances of children taking naked selfies.
Tomita said his app could be a safeguard in preventing minors from sending compromising images.
“We’ve had parents tell us that they’re hesitant to buy their children smartphones because of the crimes they could be susceptible to on the internet, so they want these apps as soon as possible,” Naoto Tomita, the co-founder of Smartbooks, told VICE World News.
Once the app is downloaded onto the child’s phone, parents simply need to grant the program permission to access photos. The app will then scan each photo and detect any nudes. Tomita and his colleagues are also working on a feature that’d stop children from deleting the app on their own, and would instead require parental permission.
Tomita is hoping to make the free app available to the public by the end of this year.
Though the startup hasn’t committed to a name for the app, they’re currently referring to it as “Kodomamo,” a synthesis of the words “child” and “protect” in Japanese.