Identifying Harmful Media in End-to-End Encrypted Communication: Efficient Private Membership Computation

Authors: Anunay Kulshrestha and Jonathan Mayer, Princeton University

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End-to-end encryption (E2EE) poses a challenge for automated detection of harmful media, such as child sexual abuse material and extremist content. The predominant approach at present, perceptual hash matching, is not viable because in E2EE a communications service cannot access user content.

In this work, we explore the technical feasibility of privacy-preserving perceptual hash matching for E2EE services. We begin by formalizing the problem space and identifying fundamental limitations for protocols. Next, we evaluate the predictive performance of common perceptual hash functions to understand privacy risks to E2EE users and contextualize errors associated with the protocols we design.

Our primary contribution is a set of constructions for privacy-preserving perceptual hash matching. We design and evaluate client-side constructions for scenarios where disclosing the set of harmful hashes is acceptable. We then design and evaluate interactive protocols that optionally protect the hash set and do not disclose matches to users. The constructions that we propose are practical for deployment on mobile devices and introduce a limited additional risk of false negatives.

Adapting Security Warnings to Counter Online Disinformation

Authors: Ben Kaiser, Jerry Wei, Elena Lucherini, and Kevin Lee, Princeton University; J. Nathan Matias, Cornell University; Jonathan Mayer, Princeton University

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Disinformation is proliferating on the internet, and platforms are responding by attaching warnings to content. There is little evidence, however, that these warnings help users identify or avoid disinformation. In this work, we adapt methods and results from the information security warning literature in order to design and evaluate effective disinformation warnings.

In an initial laboratory study, we used a simulated search task to examine contextual and interstitial disinformation warning designs. We found that users routinely ignore contextual warnings, but users notice interstitial warnings—and respond by seeking information from alternative sources.

We then conducted a follow-on crowdworker study with eight interstitial warning designs. We confirmed a significant impact on user information-seeking behavior, and we found that a warning’s design could effectively inform users or convey a risk of harm. We also found, however, that neither user comprehension nor fear of harm moderated behavioral effects.

Our work provides evidence that disinformation warnings can—when designed well—help users identify and avoid disinformation. We show a path forward for designing effective warnings, and we contribute repeatable methods for evaluating behavioral effects. We also surface a possible dilemma: disinformation warnings might be able to inform users and guide behavior, but the behavioral effects might result from user experience friction, not informed decision making.