Officials in the British spy program responsible for collecting and batching images from Yahoo users' webcams were shocked — SHOCKED! — to discover that people often use webcams to transmit pictures of their naughties to other denizens of cyber space. This only goes to further prove that governments are about as zeitgeisty as that lady in your office who still forwards you good luck chain letters from the 90's.
According to The Guardian, the Optic Nerve system was used by British intelligence to spy on Yahoo! users by gathering snapshots from people's webcams once every five minutes, and then scanning those images with facial recognition software designed to flag the visages of people who have been deemed threats. The way the program was designed was supposed to restrict agents from being able to view users' individual faces, but agents were able to view faces of users who were unfortunate enough to pick usernames that were close to the usernames of people of interest to the agency. In other words, if your username was NotATerrorist69 and the governement was very interested in the activities of NotATerrorist420, your face might be on some spy-nerd's screen.
While all of this is incredibly disturbing and terrible, perhaps the most surprising part of Optic Nerve is how vastly officials underestimated how much porn is sent over the web.
Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem forGCHQ, as one document delicately put it: "Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
LOL. "Surprising." This is what happens when your government spy programs are run by undersocialized nerds — a bunch of people with a huge amount of power and a laughably small amount of cultural savvy. You get an organization collectively shocked that on the internet, all roads lead to dicks.
To prevent accidental viewing of all that illegally obtained porn, Optic Nerve installed filters that were designed to block images of genitalia. Problem was, the program also blocked a lot of faces, and so ON started filtering out images that didn't contain faces. That didn't always work, either, and so a series of memos went around the office that were like, oops, guys, sorry if you don't like looking at fucking, but you might have to look at some fucking in the name of terrorism prevention. Also please don't forward pictures of boobies around because you're going to get in trouble. Thx.
Yahoo!, for its part, has vehemently denied knowledge of or cooperation with the program, and the NSA, when questioned about it, was also like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But let this serve as a warning to webcam sexers in the digital age: Big Brother is watching you. And maybe fapping.
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