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The Illicit Internet; Leveraging Advanced Technology for Student Safety
Contributors: Andrea Keith, PMP
Dr. Alex James Bene
Abstract. The prevalence of online pornography has been a threat to a child's virtual environment since the
onset of the World Wide Web. As the fabric of society's underlying network has moved steadily towards a
web-based form of interaction, this has created a dilemma for child development. The introduction of the
Children's Internet Protection Act in 2001 brought this dilemma to the forefront of K-12 education spurring
many companies to attack this chal enge. Gaggle's unique position in the market place as both a provider of
human monitored K-12 IT services and as a researcher and developer of machine learning technology, has
given it the ability to succeed where others have mostly failed. Moreover, Gaggle stands well poised to tackle
the chal enge of an ever changing landscape of inappropriate online material as it migrates from the pages of
porn sites to the cell-phones of sexting teens.
While the depiction of the naked human form has existed since prehistoric times, its prevalence in society as wel as society's
response to it has fluctuated much throughout history. For example, whereas Roman society once accepted depictions of
erotica, the Victorian age first formulated the modern concept of pornography and enacted the first law criminalizing it, the
Obscene Publications Act of 1857 in the United Kingdom. Also consider pornographic film, first introduced in 1896 and once
confined to underground amateur productions in the 1920's, which has exploded in the 21st century into a booming business,
with studies from 2006 estimating over $13 bil ion dol ars in revenue for the industry in the United States, alone. Today, we find
ourselves immersed in a society where even mainstream media has become more sexual, with commercials for products like
Cialis, KY Lubricants, and condoms common on daytime and primetime television and radio.
There is no denying that technology has played a large role in increasing access to il icit materials. What once required
expensive, bulky film cameras to produce can now be done by anyone owning a digital camera or even a cel phone. Distribution
used to be through magazines wrapped in brown paper delivered to your mailbox, or a visit to a seedy theater/shop in a
questionable part of town, and required proof of being at least 18 years old. But with instant access to videos on pay-per-view
television or with any device that connects to the internet, consumers can access pornography quickly and easily from their own
home, including from the bedroom of the average North American youth. To get some perspective, in 2003, there were 1.3
mil ion pornographic websites, totaling over 260 mil ion pages of content (N2H2, 2003; from safefamilies.org), and in 2007, a
Canadian study reported 90% of males and 70% of females aged 13-14 had accessed pornography at least once.
Obviously, professional pornography is a booming business. But the increase in ubiquitous access to mobile devices with
powerful cameras and video recorders has made amateur pornography, including child pornography and “sexting,” even more
popular. According to the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, 2.5% of the 1,560 10-17 year
olds surveyed had actively participated in sexting, defined as appearing in or creating images or videos via cel phone or the
internet. Moreover, the number of teens actively or passively sexting, meaning either appearing in, creating, or receiving images,
Response and Chal enges
In response to the easy access to inappropriate materials, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was created in 2001 by
the FCC. It requires schools to implement technology protection measures that block or filter internet access to pictures that are
obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors. Various companies have created ways to filter or block pornographic images
to meet these requirements, with varying levels of success. Web filtering software is commonly used in both businesses and
schools to prevent their internet users from opening certain websites, and can be successful, but often comes with the highly
frustrating tradeoff of frequently blocking legitimate sites. Visiting websites is not the only activity happening through the Web,
as email, chat rooms, instant messaging, and video chat have become more ubiquitous methods of communication. These tools
also fal under CIPA and need to be filtered, as do social networking sites like Facebook.
Email for students was one of the first online technology tools schools wanted to implement, but fear of inappropriate use
caused concerns about student safety and potential liability. K-12 email companies answered the concern with ways to
control whom students could email, what they were al owed to say, and what kinds of attachments or images they could send.
Gaggle was a leader in student email and developed extensive blocked word lists to catch language that was either
inappropriate, or indicated potential safety issues like violence, drug use, or suicidal thoughts.
Preventing pornographic images in emails was also needed, but this task proved more complicated and difficult than text
blocking. Most providers of student email answered this with a complete denial of any messages containing images or with
attachments. This drastic solution lead to a great deal of frustration as perfectly innocent images were quarantined in some
inaccessible folder, or were sent to teachers who would have to individual y review every email and decide whether it could be
delivered or not. Adding to both the importance and difficulty of screening emails for inappropriate images, we have seen an
explosion of amateur photography with the popularity of mobile devices with built-in cameras. One estimate set the number of
photographs taken around the world in 2011 at 375 bil ion. Users of Instagram, a popular photo sharing website, upload 5
mil ion photos every day. Today's youth have grown up taking their own photos from an early age, documenting and sharing
Early on, Gaggle realized a better system needed to be developed so students and teachers could enjoy the full benefits of
electronic communication. It was certainly imperative that inappropriate images be kept from students, but putting teachers in a
position of having to review every single image wasn't a viable solution. That would technical y meet the requirements of CIPA,
but put an unbearable workload on educators. Thus, they committed to developing an Anti-Pornography Scanner (APS)
that would handle an initial screening of al images, reducing the workload for educators, as well as their frustration.
The chal enge for Gaggle from the beginning was to create a computerized system that could scan and analyze images
accurately. Yet much of the analysis of images is highly subjective and dependent not only on the content but the context of the
picture. Merely writing a program that can recognize flesh tones in the pixels of a photo was not enough, as that would result in
blocking not only images of nudity, but also common close-up photos of people. So almost as important as blocking bad content
was keeping false positives to a minimum. Achieving this required the utilization of machine learning technology, which could
learn through a training process how to recognize patterns in both inappropriate images as wel as innocent ones. Gaggle's
developers heading the Anti-Pornography Scanner improvements, Jeremy Loss and Alex Bene, worked to continuously retrain
this technology for maximal effectiveness, based on an accuracy scale which balances these goals of detecting pornography and
The training process for Gaggle's pornography filter requires a large col ection of images already identified as either
inappropriate or innocent, and the accuracy of the filter on the Loss-Bene scale depends on how well this choice of images
represents reality. Because the majority of readily available inappropriate images tend to be professional photographs, the ever-
increasing amount of lower quality amateur images taken with personal digital cameras and mobile devices presents a new
chal enge. An additional chal enge to developing accurate filters is presented by the subjectivity in determining what is and isn't
appropriate. This is general y determined by the society one lives in, but even within our own United States
can vary greatly based on geography, culture, and religion. How does one define pornography? Certainly it can be agreed that
depictions of naked people engaged in sexual behavior qualify, but what about an image showing a skimpily clad woman in a
suggestive pose? Or ful y clothed adults simulating sexual activity? These become a grayer area.
Gaggle APS 2 |
P a g e
Gaggle has been uniquely positioned to address these chal enges by leveraging its data col ected as wel as its expertise acquired
over the many years that the company has been providing services to schools. In the 2011/2012 school year, Gaggle users
sent over 11 mil ion emails messages, and approximately 1.7 bil ion messages are currently maintained in their system. Many of
their student users regularly post updates to their Social Wal , including over 444,000 images. Those, as wel as pictures
embedded in emails, uploaded in Digital Locker files, and in links to URLS have given the company over 200 mil ion images to
analyze as they refine the APS. Moreover, through the many interactions with schools, Gaggle has an intimate understanding of
what educator's and administrator's expectations are regarding what should be deemed inappropriate. Combining this
understanding with data analysis and experience coming from Gaggle's Human Monitoring Service, Jeremy Loss and Alex Bene
helped Gaggle develop a consistent definition of pornography which has been highly effective in providing significant
The Anti-Pornography Scanner gives Gaggle the highest degree of CIPA compliance in the industry, providing the peace of mind
district administrators need as they strive to provide technology-rich environments for their 21st century students. It is
combined with their highly effective Human Monitoring Service that provides the front line of defense for cyber safety by
removing the burden of monitoring blocked content from the schools, placing it in the hands of trained Cyber Security Agents.
Gaggle also recognizes that many districts are already committed to using some other popular communication services, so offers
an integration option for Google Apps and Gmail, as wel as Microsoft Live@edu, making the benefits of their Anti-Pornography
Scanner and Human Monitoring Service widely available to K-12 education
Pornography may have a permanent place in history, but it doesn't belong in our schools. Gaggle is committed to meeting this
chal enge and wil continue to work to prevent inappropriate images from being sent or received by school students. Today's kids
are immersed in technology, and fearlessly consume and create visual content, but they are stil children. It is not appropriate to
al ow unrestricted communication and internet access in our classrooms simply hoping they won't be exposed to something
pornographic. Gaggle's communication, col aboration, and productivity tools al ow school districts to provide authentic
technology to students, and their APS gives administrators and parents confidence and peace of mind.
1. "Obscene Publications Act". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.,
2. “Internet Pornography Statistics” . TopTenReview. TechMediaNetwork.com.
TechMediaNetwork.com, 2012. Web. 19
3. "Online MBA." The Stats on Internet Porn
. OnlineMBA.com, 18 June 2010. Web. 19 June 2012.
4. “Internet Pornography Statistics” . TopTenReview. TechMediaNetwork.com.
TechMediaNetwork.com, 2012. Web. 19
5. Mitchel , Kimberly, David Finkelhor, Lisa Jones, and Janis Wolak. "Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A
National Study." Unh.edu
. Crimes against Children Research Center, 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 19 June 2012.
6. Good, Jonathan. "How Many Photos Have Ever Been Taken?" 1000memories
. 1000memoriesblog, 15 Sept. 2011. Web.
19 June 2012. <http://blog.1000memories.com/94-number-of-photos-ever-taken-digital-and-analog-in-shoebox>
7. "Instagram." Press Center Instagram for Android
. Instagram.com, 2012. Web. 19 June 2012.
<http://instagram.com/press/>. *Mark of Gaggl
Other company, product, and service marks are the properties of their respective owners
Gaggle APS 3 | P a g e
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