On a 2017 episode of HBO's Silicon Valley, would-be entrepreneur Jian-Yang pivots an app he'd built into an extremely narrow "Shazam for food." He calls it "Not Hotdog" to reflect the single function it performed: identifying whether the item you'd photographed was a hot dog, or, well, not.

The broad joke there was that Jian-Yang created the most ridiculous possible application of interesting and powerful technology. Just think: He could have coded an algorithm, enhanced by machine-learning, that would have been genuinely helpful to the world. Such an innovation could help keep portions of the internet clean, or keep an individual's private messages free from pornographic images--especially those that include anatomical images of similar shape to hot dogs. Yes, what I am referring to is, in essence, a "dick pic" detector.

Now, a real tech company has built one.

The London- and Austin-based parent company of dating apps Badoo, Bumble, Chappy, and Lumen, announced Wednesday that beginning in June, all four of the apps will have a new "Private Detector" integrated into their service. The feature is algorithmic, and has been trained by AI to capture images in real-time and determine with 98 percent accuracy whether they contain nudity or other explicit sexual content. It will stop those images from being uploaded to users' profiles, and if one is sent privately from one user to another, it will be blurred to the recipient until they opt into viewing it.

Interestingly, Private Detector is a different application of the same technology that helps Bumble enforce its 2018 ban on images of firearms throughout its app, according to Andrey Andreev, the founder of the dating apps' parent company (known internally as "The Group").

"We can detect anything: guns, apple, snakes, you name it," Andreev said. The Private Detector is not just for dick pics, he added; it will work on images of both men and women. 

Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd said when she and Andreev teamed up in 2014 to create Bumble, she had a vision for "making an internet that was friendlier to women." Andreev was the ideal partner, she said, because he'd already built Badoo, a dating company with hundreds of employees and a robust tech platform armed with user-security features such as image-verification of profile photos. The company utilizes roughly 5,000 human moderators of images and in-app content.

"Andrey and I decided together that we want to use the power of technology and scale to do good things, keep people safe, and make us more accountable," Wolfe Herd said. Concurrently with the company boosting its features to keep users from receiving unsolicited nude images, Wolfe Herd has been working with Texas state lawmakers to develop a bill that would make the unauthorized sharing of lewd photos a crime.

Clearly the time has come for solutions aimed at making the internet safer--as Silicon Valley, in its own way, called attention to. So did Bumble draw any inspiration from the show?

"Private Detector is not some '2019 idea' that's a response to some other tech company or a pop culture idea," Wolfe Herd said. "It's something that's been important to our company from the beginning--and is just one piece of how we keep our users safe and secure."

Published on: Apr 24, 2019