More than 50 major tech companies have helped put together California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ online tool for victims of revenge porn.
California State Department of Justice

California is ramping up its war on revenge porn by giving victims new tools for fighting back.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Wednesday that her office has partnered with tech companies and law enforcement agencies to create an online resources hub to help people remove unauthorized explicit photographs or videos of themselves from the Internet. The hub will also help tech companies develop policies to prevent posting of exploitative images, as well as educate local law enforcement on how to investigate and prosecute revenge-porn cases.

“Posting intimate images online without consent is a cowardly crime that humiliates and belittles victims,” Harris said in a statement. “These new tools will assist law enforcement in combating cyberexploitation and support victims in seeking justice. I would like to thank our partners from our task force, whose work will have a global impact in combating this heinous crime.”

Typically practiced by vindictive former lovers, revenge porn involves posting another person’s intimate images and personal information online for the purpose of public humiliation or even extortion. Once on the Internet, images can spread quickly and be difficult to remove due to vague laws and inconsistent concepts of free speech across international borders. Further complicating the trauma are sites that specialize in displaying revenge-porn photos and charging the victim hefty fees for removal.

Harris said the hub is the culmination of work by a task force convened in January that consisted of 50 major technology companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, as well as law enforcement officials and victims’ advocates.

Tech companies have also taken it on themselves to ramp up the fight against cyberexploitation, making it easier for victims to navigate the process of having intimate content removed. Microsoft opened a dedicated reporting website in July that helps revenge-porn victims report offending links. The move came after Google said it would begin removing links to revenge porn in its search engine.

Google followed in the footsteps of Twitter, which in March set 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.

California has been at the forefront of the war on revenge porn, passing a law in 2013 that imposes sentences of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for people “convicted of illegally distributing private images with the intent to harass or annoy.”

Harris cited research conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative that found more than 90 percent of revenge-porn victims are women or girls. Of those victims surveyed, 51 percent reported having suicidal thoughts, according to the CCRI, a partner in the initiative.

“Over the past 50 years, the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, engage in commerce, and collaborate with friends and colleagues around the world,” John Doherty, vice president of TechNet, a national trade group focused on public policy, said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, these changes have been a force for good. But, clearly there is a dark side, and we must remain vigilant in the effort to protect Internet users from this type of terrible and troubling cyberexploitation.”

The hub includes tips about what steps revenge-porn victims can take, including information about major tech companies’ privacy policies and links to help victims report unauthorized images for removal from social networks and search engines.

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California launches site to help victims of revenge porn