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Instagram is finally working to protect users from unsolicited nude photos

The Instagram icon appears in the center of a background filled with pink, orange, and purple shapes.
Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge

Instagram is working on a way to protect users from receiving unsolicited nude photos in their DMs. Instagram’s parent company, Meta, has confirmed that The edge that the feature was in development after an app researcher published an early picture of the tool.

Meta says the optional user controls, which are still in the early stages of development, will help people protect themselves from nude photos and other unwanted messages.

The tech giant compared these controls to its “Hidden Words” feature, which allows users to automatically filter direct message requests containing objectionable content.

According to Meta, the technology will not allow Meta to view the actual posts or share them with third parties. “We are working closely with experts to ensure that these new features protect people’s privacy while giving them control over the messages they receive,” said Meta spokesperson Liz Fernandez.

Meta says it will share more details about the new feature in the coming weeks as they get closer to testing.

A report published earlier this year by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a UK nonprofit, found that Instagram’s tools failed to respond to 90 percent of image-based abusive direct messages sent to prominent women. Many were sent sexual images of men, and even the ‘hidden words’ feature couldn’t fully filter out swear words like ‘b*tch’.

Meanwhile, last year, The Pew Research Center published a report which found that 33 percent of women under the age of 35 had been sexually harassed online.

The work on the new Instagram feature comes as cyberflashing, which involves sending unsolicited sexual messages to strangers – often women – online could soon become a criminal offense in the UK if Parliament passes the Online Safety Bill.

However, cyber flashing is not a crime in much of the US Texas made cyberflashing a crime in 2019. That’s despite the fact that some experts believe it can be just as psychologically damaging as sexual abuse that happens in person.

“Some will come forward and say: [cyber flashing] is harmless,” Professor Clare McGlynn of Durham Law School, an expert in image-based sexual abuse, told HuffPost. “Everyone struggles with the fact that it’s not face-to-face, but that’s not how you classify sex crimes. The harm of sex crimes is so great and different forms of crime can have the same impact on different people.”

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