Android App Keeps Citizen Journalists Honest
|Two images showing the results of a YouProve analysis. On the left is the original photo. On the right is the|
Today, news breaks faster than ever. Mere seconds after rebels raid a crazed despot's palace, witnesses are tweeting live photos and play-by-play status updates. Such instant reporting is unprecedented, but how can accuracy remain intact in today's world of burgeoning citizen journalism?
A new Android app developed by computer scientists at Duke University may hold the answer. Called YouProve, the software verifies information by tracking changes made to a file. Landon Cox, one of the app's developers, spoke about YouProve at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference in Seattle yesterday (Nov. 4).
With the Arab Spring and the Iranian protests in 2009, we relied on citizen journalists for information," Cox said in a statement. "But as crowdsourced content plays an increasingly important role in world affairs, falsified media could have severe consequences. It's important that we make sure the information we are getting is accurate."
YouProve tracks changes made to an image or audio clip in third-party applications in the Android operating system, like Photoshop Express, Facebook or Garageband. The developers hope that by doing so, they can help prevent the spread of erroneous or altered information.
With Internet services increasingly reliant on anonymous, crowd-sourced data, we were interested in trying to help services verify the authenticity of [such] data without undermining user anonymity and privacy, Cox told TechNewsDaily.
That is, a YouProve user can anonymously post to the Internet any changes the software finds in a given file. These changes are summarized in a fidelity certificate that's produced by the YouProve program and can't be forged.
According to a study conducted by the Project on Information Technology & Political Islam, blogging, YouTubing, tweeting and Facebooking played a prominent role in this year's political uprisings in the Middle East. In the week leading up to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation in February, politically charged tweets from Egypt and elsewhere ranged from 2,300 to 230,000 a day. In Libya, grassroots news outlets such as @feb17voices have gained traction, providing followers with eyewitness reports from within the country.
With YouProve, readers of such online media could determine if a photo tweeted by a contributor was blurred in Photoshop, for example.
In tests, YouProve correctly pegged edited photos or audio clips with 99 percent accuracy in less than 70 seconds.
YouProve is meant to complement other verification techniques, Cox said in an email. However, there are important scenarios in which information has to be contributed anonymously, and this is where YouProve provides the most value.
Of course, smartphone manufacturers will have to get on board before this software hits the market, making their devices' hardware- accessible to YouProve. And for you iPhone-owning arbiters of truth, Cox says YouProve is certainly not Android-exclusive.
We built our prototype for Android because its operating system source code is publicly available, Cox said to INO. There is no reason why YouProve couldn't be implemented on iOS.