How Airtime plans to keep penises out of the picture

Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning’s new social video startup Airtime launched today with a celebrity-studded event, but no matter how many times Jim Carrey praised the service it was clear that it liberally borrowed the basic idea of Chatroulette and added Facebook to the equation.

But, as you might remember, Chatroulette had a serious “penis problem.” The more random people you connected with, the greater the likelihood that your eyes would be assaulted by the sudden sight of some stranger’s male organ. While Chatroulette gave birth to some great videos, the penis problem essentially killed Chatroulette’s once-big dreams.

So how does Airtime plan to keep its users away from all those pesky penises?

Airtime told VentureBeat that it uses a combination of automated facial recognition technology and user and moderator review. While it didn’t get into specifics, everything points to Airtime’s in-house technology detecting if a face is on-screen and if it does not see a face, a warning light goes up. There are also moderators from Airtime who are constantly looking for inappropriate content and users can flag people too. Airtime is also more than willing to terminate your account and report illegal behavior to the authorities.

Despite that, as BuzzFeed hilariously reports, it is definitely possible to flash someone using Airtime. [Update: Airtime has informed us that people who are Facebook friends with each other do not have their video messages screened, so feel free to send your closest friends pictures of your junk whenever without worry.]


Related: Hands-on with Airtime


Airtime’s biggest guarantee of decency is probably the fact that your Airtime account connects through Facebook, so if you don’t want images of your private parts associated with your Facebook account (like most sane people), you won’t be flashing the random strangers you meet. You could theoretically start a Facebook account just for your male organ (names like “Richard Long” and “Peter Johnson” spring to mind), but you’d have to be pretty dedicated to flashing the Internet.

We asked Airtime to go into more detail on how its technology worked, but a company spokesperson said Airtime doesn’t want to “share too much about the risk scoring to prevent people from circumventing the system.”

That caginess makes us pretty sure that Airtime doesn’t actually have a “penis detection algorithm” to stop flashers from spoiling the service.

To dig a little deeper, we decided to ask Denis Brulé, the CEO of French image-matching startup Moodstacks, if it was possible to create such an algorithm. He said you could theoretically use “color and texture” to create a filter that would detect dangerous images. He said some startups are already tackling this specific problem.

“In France, there are some companies working on porn movie detection,” Brulé said. “The point would be to analyze videos in real-time to prevent porn content from showing up on a screen. This could keep kids safer as they browse the Internet.”

Maybe Airtime should hook up with one of these French startups to keep us safer.


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