When a child sexual predator identifies a potential victim online, they don't always try to start a sexual relationship with them immediately. Instead, the predator might engage in a process called "grooming" — befriending and establishing trust with the potential victim so they can exploit that trust later.
Now, Microsoft has created a tool that analyzes text-based chats for signs of grooming — and they're giving it away in the hopes it can help fight the massive problem of child sexual exploitation online.
Microsoft developed the tool, which is code-named Project Artemis, as part of a multi-organization effort that launched in November 2018. According to a new blog post, it builds on patented technology Microsoft started using to prevent grooming on its Xbox platform several years ago.
The tool analyzes text-based conversations and assigns them a rating indicating the likelihood that grooming is taking place. A company can decide for itself what ratings warrant a flag — a seven or above out of 10, for example.
Flagged conversations go to a human moderator for review, and that person can then decide if the company should contact the authorities.
Microsoft writes in the blog post that it's making the tool available for free through Thorn, a technology nonprofit focused on putting a stop to child sexual abuse, to "any qualified online service companies that offer a chat function."
The post doesn't explain exactly what makes a company qualified, but anyone interested in acquiring the tool is urged to contact Thorn at email@example.com.
If even a single company takes Microsoft up on the offer — and the tool is at all effective — there's a chance Project Artemis could save at least some children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation. And that alone would make the 14 month's worth of effort that went into developing it worthwhile.
READ MORE: Microsoft has created a tool to find pedophiles in online chats [MIT Technology Review]
More on online safety: To Fight Pedophiles, Youtube Disables Comments on Videos Featuring Kids
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