Eliminating nudity, flashers and advertisements is part of the challenge a group of scientists have taken on to help protect users and clean up the image of webcam site Chatroulette.
According to the report published by scientists at the University of Colorado’s Department of Computer Science and McGill University's School of Computer Science, who collaborated closely with Chatroulette, a newly developed algorithm can successfully filter out large amounts of obscene material on the webcam chat site — where as much as 30 per cent of the 8.5 million monthly unique visitors consists of minors.
"We have observed a much higher proportion of female users using the service recently because of the cleaned-up environment," said Yu-li Xinyu, co-developer of the algorithm that was implemented less than a month ago.
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Services like Chatroulette and its competitors randomly pair up users who are then shown a live webcam stream of the stranger along with a chat box. The brief and anonymous nature of the technology can lend itself to nudity and other inappropriate behaviour.
Last year, St. John's police found that the website was turning up in child pornography investigations, but since then, Chatroulette has made a strong effort to address the problem.
"The issue was big for months after the service was launched, but the problem was resolved as we implemented content control systems — we have been constantly improving it since then," said Chatroulette founder Andrey Ternovskiy in a statement to the CBC News.
The filter identifies excessive amounts of exposed skin while simultaneously recognizing faces as appropriate skin.
The report notes that current technology excels at identifying pornography in still imagery and on websites, but it has difficulty overcoming variations in ethnicity, lighting and camera quality when applied to video footage.
The new algorithm is able to compensate for these factors and is more accurate as a result, filtering out nearly 60 per cent of the offensive material and ads in the 20,000-user sample that was part of the study.
50,000 users banned daily
"While recognition software improves, we have employed a moderation team to review pictures manually. We now have around 100 moderators who are all monitoring all webcam feeds and marking inappropriate ones," said Ternovskiy.
The combination of filter technology and moderation results in the banning of 50,000 inappropriate users daily, he said, and as a result, the issue is "not as prevalent right now."
Chatroulette is entirely anonymous in its current form, but Ternovskiy plans to add minor registration features in the near future, which should make users less inclined to expose themselves to strangers.