San Jose-based Fourandsix Technologies has announced plans to capitalize on “a growing distrust of manipulated images” with the launch of new forensic tool “to prove that hosted photos have not been modified with Photoshop or other tools,” according to a press release.
The tool is available for free to individual users at izitru.com. A developer API making it possible to integrate the photo authentication software into any website is available to third parties for a fee.
“Viewers are unsure of what to trust, whether they’re looking at a selfie on Facebook, an item for sale on eBay, or a dramatic storm cloud photo on Twitter,” the company says in its announcement.
The izitru.com website prompts users to upload their JPEG images, which are then subjected to six different forensic tests to distinguish original camera files from “subsequent derivations”–ie, files altered with Photoshop or other tools. “Images that pass all six of these tests get the highest trust rating,” the company says in its announcement.
One of our first questions was, Can this tool be used to determine the authenticity of images already posted online–such as winners of major awards in photojournalism contests, or any other news images, for that matter?
The answer is No.
“The vast majority of the files that have already gotten distributed over social media and through other means will already have been re-compressed to the point that they can no longer pass our tests,” Fourandsix CEO Kevin Connor told us. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that the file content has been changed in a meaningful way–just that it’s no longer the camera original.”
Moreover, many images distributed through news outlets would not pass the izitru.com tests because those images are tweaked for brightness and contrast. Images subjected to filters on Instagram would also fail. And izitru.com, as it currently stands, provides no details about how or to what degree an image that fails the tests has been altered.
So what use is the tool to the professional photography industry?
“While there’s value in creative manipulation of photos, there remains a critical role for photos to play in documenting reality,” Connor says in the press release.
He explained in an e-mail that the authentication tool gives photojournalists who shoot JPEG files a way to certify to the publications they work for that their images are camera originals. (Many photojournalists shoot RAW files, however, which reveal alterations easily without special detection tools.) The izitru.com site also gives media outlets a means by which to verify the authenticity of photos submitted by citizen journalists, Connor says. Photo editors can simply ask those citizen contributors to submit their photos through the izitru website first.
There are other applications, Connor says, citing insurance photography as an example. “Think of all of the insurance companies promoting their apps lately for taking pictures of car accidents. Our technology offers a mechanism for verifying those photos and cutting down on fraud.”
He says the izitru website “is pitched primarily at the person who captures the photo, and the hope is that they’ll choose to certify the image on izitru before they start sharing on social media. Of course, that requires that someone have the motivation to establish credibility before-hand.”
He acknowledges that “people who probably care most about determining credibility are the people who receive the photo downstream. That’s where the developer API comes in.”
The API is a tool that will enable any provider of photo sharing services–ranging from small start-ups to corporations like eBay and insurance companies to major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram–to incorporate image authentication into their own workflow.
“To the extent our API gets integrated into services where people are already sharing their images, then this can become a passive process where photos can get certified automatically in the normal course of business,” Connor explains. He adds, “We haven’t yet begun pursuing integrations. That starts now.”
While the izitru website is a showcase for the technology and and individuals can use it free-of-charge, Fourandsix expects to generate revenue by charging third parties for the use of the API. “That’s where our business model lies,” Connor says, adding that the company has “no intention” of ever selling the data of those who use the izitru.com website.
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