E-mail protection praised

One of the trickiest problems for Internet service providers in the Middle East is providing Internet access while still respecting the cultural values of the region. With such a vast amount of inappropriate material available on the Internet, it is not surprising that often this resource is abused. Now a British software company is offering a way to guard against offensive material—and His Highness Sheikh Mohammad himself has welcomed the development.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 16, 2001

One of the trickiest problems for Internet service providers in the Middle East is providing Internet access while still respecting the cultural values of the region. With such a vast amount of inappropriate material available on the Internet, it is not surprising that often this resource is abused. Now a British software company is offering a way to guard against offensive material—and His Highness Sheikh Mohammad himself has welcomed the development.

First 4 Internet (F4i) is using Gitex to introduce its Image Composition Analysis software to the region, technology that Sheikh Mohammad described as “very important”.

F4i’s software analyses images using 22,000 different algorithms to determine whether a picture is obscene. The technology, which was launched in May this year, is currently being included in software products from SurfControl to filter email messages, with a Web browser version ready for release in November.

What makes the software different from other image filtering software, says the company, is the ability to distinguish between a wide range of photographs. Whereas previous image filtering technologies have only examined pictures for skin-coloured pictures, F4i’s ICA is able to judge between textures so that photos featuring flesh-coloured wood or sand are not barred, and even judge image composition, so that innocent beach photos or paintings are not excluded while still catching pornographic images that don’t have a high skin tone ratio.

The technology is fast as well, with over 20 images per second being scanned. Independent testing by Tescom has shown that the software is up to 95% accurate, compared to 67% for similar products.

Mathew Gilliat-Smith, managing director for F4i explained that up to 30% of images sent to business email addresses were obscene. “The problem causes embarrassment, it costs money through harassment suits, it costs staff their jobs, and in this region the problem is even more sensitive. We’re looking to form partnerships to distribute ICA in the Middle East, and we’re keen to join forces with companies that can customise the software, incorporating it with their own products,” he said. “Also, the biggest user group on the Internet is kids—you can block the Internet, but not email—the education market is very ready for this solution.”

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