99 percent of the Internet is full of it, and now a spy agency has a ton of it. The British spy organization GCHQ, along with an assist from the NSA, tapped into Yahoo's files and now has millions upon millions of Yahoo webcam chat logs. To their surprise, 11 percent contained what they refer to as "undesirable nudity."
Off of the heels of the Edward Snowden leak, this six-month-long project, called "Optic Nerve," put the GCHQ in front of 1.8 million users' chat records. The agency then saved the files to their databases, whether or not the documents were from users the team was targeting. Reports say that the files only go through 2010, but an internal wiki page from GCHQ indicates that the operation was in effect through 2012.
Yahoo, obviously, is not too thrilled about this and said so in a statement.
We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December. We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.
Yahoo has declined to comment further, but has said it also plans to deploy stricter encryption to all of the company's products. By the end of this month, Yahoo will give all users the option to protect their data.
The GCHQ used a facial recognition software in order to identify Yahoo users whose faces looked close enough to the ones they were trying to investigate. This obviously led to some innocent people's data being saved by the British agency. Regardless, the team used their available Internet taps - ones that make the NSA's efforts look like child's play - to identify Yahoo webcam traffic, save an image of a chat once every five minutes and then display that information to an analyst who was allowed to scan through the images to find people of interest. Yikes.
And I know what you're thinking: what about the porn? Well this document, dated December 2008, outlines some of the agency's findings, which apparently shocked them to a point that they had to mention their astonishment.
Unfortunately, there are issues with undesirable images within the data. It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.
I, for one, did not know that was happening until I read this document. Truly an eye-opening experience. At any rate, the contents of this data contained so much nudity that the GCHQ issued a warning to analysts, with a few tips on what they might see.
Whe use face detection to try to censor material which may be offensive but this does not work perfectly so you should read the following before using OPTIC NERVE:
- It is possible to handle and display undesirable images. There is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them.
- You are reminded that under GCHQ's offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence.
- Retrieval of or reference to such material should be avoided.
The GCHQ has not commented on the matter, and has stated that it has a "longstanding policy" not to on "intelligence matters." A spokesman also said that the GCHQ conducted all of this activity "in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework" and that even the secretary of state, and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee approved this operation. Oh, and as far as the NSA is concerned, the agency went on record to say that it would "not ask foreign partners... to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself." For once, the NSA kind of looks like the good guys? Yikes.