Human rights activists and campaigners will be able to appear anonymously in videos posted to YouTube, after parent company Google introduced new face-blurring technology to the website.
Google said the move was designed to help protect the identity of protesters who appear on the video-sharing site from being exposed to authorities.
YouTube has become a popular destination for videos of protest and civil disobediance in many countries around the world. Activists involved in the Arab Spring uprising in the Middle East used the site as a way to share footage of unrest in the region.
“As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them,” said Amanda Conway, policy associate at YouTube, in a blogpost on the site.
More than 100,000 videos were uploaded to YouTube from Egypt in a two-week period at the height of the Arab Spring last year. That was a 72% increase on the previous three months. More than 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute.
YouTube users who upload a video to the site are asked whether they want to apply a “Blur All Faces” option which will obscure all identities in the clip. Once faces have been obscured, YouTube creates two versions of the video, one without the blurring and one with. Users can decide whether to publish either or both of the videos. If they choose to delete the unblurred version, it will be removed permanently from Google’s servers.
Conway said visual anonymity on the site would allow people to “share personal footage more widely and to speak out when they otherwise may not”.
The face-blurring technology opens a new front in Google’s attempt to help activists sidestep autocratic regimes. It comes weeks after the search giant said it would begin notifying Gmail users if it believes they are being targeted by state-sponsored hackers.
Conway added: “Because human rights footage, in particular, opens up new risks to the people posting videos and to those filmed, it’s important to keep in mind other ways to protect yourself and the people in your videos.
“YouTube is proud to be a destination where people worldwide come to share their stories, including activists. Along with efforts like the Human Rights Channel and Citizentube that curate these voices, we hope that the new technologies we’re rolling out will facilitate the sharing of even more stories on our platform.”
However, the move is likely to be seen as a further blow to some MPs and local authorities who have said videos on YouTube can be used as a “recruitment mechanism for gangs“. Heidi Alexander MP and Southwark council in central London are among those calling for extra powers for courts to block and take down gang-related videos that could incite violence.
Google maintains that violent content is banned from YouTube and will be removed from the site if it is flagged to moderators.
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