Microsoft Unveils New Tool to Combat Online Predators

The Microsoft logo is illuminated on a wall during a Microsoft launch event - Getty-H 2020
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Project Artemis is a new technique aimed at detecting, addressing and reporting attempts by predators to groom children for sexual encounters through online platforms.

Microsoft is aiming to further combat online sexual predators on its platforms with the introduction of a new "grooming detection technique" code-named Project Artemis, chief digital safety officer Courtney Gregoire announced in a blog post Thursday morning. 

The new technique will be aimed at detecting, addressing and reporting attempts by predators to groom children for sexual encounters through online platforms. Project Artemis is developed in collaboration with social entertainment service The Meet Group, mobile messenger app Kik, international anti-human trafficking organization Thorn and online game platform Roblox

Project Artemis will be made freely available via Thorn to "qualified online service companies that offer a chat function," which includes many online games and messenger services. The project began in November 2018 at a Microsoft "360 Cross-Industry Hackathon," a gathering of tech professionals from various companies to develop and workshop new technology.

The Project Artemis teams were led by Hany Farid, who previously partnered with Microsoft and Dartmouth College on the development of PhotoDNA, a free tool that uses "technology that aids in finding and removing known images of child exploitation." 

Project Artemis works by evaluating and "rating" historical text-based chat conversations to assign an "overall probability rating" that can be used as a determiner of when a flagged conversation should be sent to human moderators for review. The specific determination factors are set by the individual companies implementing the Project Artemis tool. 

Gregoire says that Microsoft has been "leveraging the technique in programs on our Xbox platform for several years" and is exploring use of Project Artemis in its chat services, such as Skype.

Licensing and adoption of the Project Artemis technique will be handled by Thorn starting Jan. 10. Companies interested in testing and adopting the tool are encouraged to contact Thorn directly. 

Beginning Jan. 10, licensing and adoption of the technique will be handled by Thorn. Companies and services wanting to test and adopt the technique can contact Thorn directly at antigrooming@thorn.org. Microsoft has been leveraging the technique in programs on its Xbox platform for several years and is exploring its use in chat services, including Skype.

Online predation has been a major concern for U.S. law enforcement and tech companies for years. In 2017, the Senate passed the Protect Our Children Act — reauthorizing a nationwide network of 61 coordinated task forces made up of some 3,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies working to combat child exploitation. And last September, a multi-agency undercover investigation dubbed "Operation Open House" led to the arrest of 24 people in New Jersey for allegedly using Fortnite and Minecraft to lure and groom minors for sex. 

In August, Microsoft told THR that the company has a "dedicated safety team that works across Xbox Live 24 hours a day, seven days a week to review flagged content as quickly as possible and coordinate with law enforcement" to combat online predation.