Let Jigsaw Loose to Combat Fake Photos

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans       We were watching a show on Amazon Prime called Distrito Salvaje or Wild District the other day that originates in Columbia.  The through line on the series is a former super guerilla-killa with FARC had come back to Bogota as part of the peace agreement but was so notorious that he was living anonymously and being handled for spy and other missions by a shadowy part of the Columbian equivalent of the CIA.  I’m not saying this is appointment viewing or anything, but mi companera and I specialize in foreign crime procedurals and aren’t intimidated by subtitles even though we are amazed that the subtitles don’t align with the English dubbing.  Don’t even ask me about Engrenages or Spiral and the French cops and Laure, their great woman captain, where we are now in the fourth season, but I digress.  In one of the last shows in Distrito the woman underdog running for president against corruption was being scandalized by a picture her opponents were fabricating by taking her face, pasting it on another woman, supposedly meeting with someone to take a bribe.  You know when it becomes a TV staple, that it’s as easy to photoshop and juxtapose pictures as it is to walk around the block.  Dirty tricks are standard operating procedure in politics and fake news, so this could be ubiquitous.

I read a piece in the Times about a Google subsidiary called Jigsaw that is claiming it has created a new tool to sort out the real from the false in images.  They use seven different tests on color, contrast, lighting, and other factors to do so.  They created two of the tests at Jigsaw, and universities around the world created five of the tests.  They are using the tool, named Assembler, with different news and fact-checking organizations including the Rappler in Philippines which has been the frontline countervailing weight to the fictions of President Duterte.  They have also created a database that looks at various ways that campaigns, governments, and other groups have gone over the line in creating false content for persuasive manipulation, including a small-town California hospital trying to tilt the scale for a hospital board election.

This seems like good stuff.  Jigsaw is offering it to these beta-testers for free and seems to be implying that the tool could be free to journalists and others in the future.

They say they have no plans to offer it to the public.  They’re wrong for that.  When it seems that every Joe Blow can trick around on Instagram or on Reddit with Photoshop or whatever and that Project Veritas and James O’Keefe can edit scandals out of snippets of tape, we all need Jigsaw-like tools.

Come on Google-guys, you already own our privacy, so why not give us some tools to protect ourselves in your brand-new world?