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The App That Could End Revenge Porn

Mar 2 2017 9:00 PM
The App That Could End Revenge Porn

Photo by Lisa Madovich via Stocksy

It's a modern-day reality that recording sex on your phone poses an element of risk. And yet, technology might just save the day.

Thanks very much to the insidious rise of revenge porn, filming sex in the confines of our own homes has become laced with apprehension for many. Having something so personal made so public, with all control withheld, is the stuff of nightmares.

But Nathan Kot, a 24-year-old software engineer from New Zealand, has made inroads to addressing the problem with his new app Rumuki, which uses encryption technology to record videos to your phone, preventing them from getting into the wrong hands.

The videos can only be filmed with permission from both parties, Kot says, and can only be played back using a randomly generated key. This key is then protected by the devices' passcodes, plus an additional passcode in the app, in case either person leaves their phone unlocked. The app has now been downloaded 6,000 times.

READ MORE: This 14-Year-Old Girl is Suing Facebook Over Revenge Porn

By some estimates, there are thousands of revenge-porn websites operating worldwide. One in 25 people online in the U.S. alone has been a victim of revenge porn—or threats of it, according to a study released last year by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research.

Celebrity sex-tape leaks get the most attention, including "the Fappening" in 2014, when a hacker accessed private celebrity accounts and leaked nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, among others. But leaks don't always happen through hackers: many videos are created and sent consensually, only to be distributed later without consent.

There's nothing wrong with having a beautiful picture or video of yourself.

That's where Rumuki steps in. If either party decides they want to delete the video, deleting one key will effectively block anyone from accessing it again. The app gets its name from the Japanese term for "room key," because using it is a bit like checking into a hotel room, Kot says: "The only people who have access to that room are the people with the room keys."

Carolanne Marcantonio, a Licensed Master Social Worker and sex therapist based in New York, likes the idea. "People will always film themselves. It's just a fact of life," she says. "There's nothing wrong with having a beautiful picture or video of yourself."

At the same time, people "don't necessarily think of the consequences that might happen if there's a breakup, or if you send someone a video. We still live in a sex-negative culture, and sometimes there are these consequences you never think about when you're just having fun"— like being googled by a prospective employer.

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Even Rumuki has vulnerabilities, though: The app doesn't yet alert users when the other person watching their video has taken a screen-shot, something Kot says will be updated. Still, he warns that there is no way to fully protect private videos and images. There will always be "analog" workarounds, like using another device to record the screen while a video is playing.

"Something I've been sort of wary about recently is the idea that this app [Rumuki] could provide a false sense of security," he says. If more people begin to take videos without fully understanding the risks, "could that actually create an uptick in revenge porn? I'm worried about that."

Kot developed the app over two years as a pet project, after a friend suggested there was no good solution for keeping sex tapes truly private. "I wanted to have a positive impact on the world," he says. "If this app can stop revenge porn, that'd be amazing."

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