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Ashton Kutcher's nonprofit Thorn – which received $60 million to fight child sexual abuse – just started selling a new AI product to help social networks like Vimeo, Flickr, and Slack weed out child porn


Julie Cordua of Thorn

  • The 60-person nonprofit Thorn, which was founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to defend children from sexual abuse is rolling out a new artificial intelligence software that it's selling to tech companies. 
  • The organization has $60 million in funding from TED and has locked in early customers like Slack, Flickr, and Vimeo. 
  • In a year and a half of beta-testing the product, called Safer, Flickr was able to help identify and recover 21 children. 
  • Selling software to tech companies is one example of how Thorn is helping to lead the tech world in addressing the issue of child porn, the nonprofit says. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Thorn, a nonprofit founded by actor and investor Ashton Kutcher that aims to defend children from sexual abuse and trafficking, is releasing a new artificial intelligence tool to help medium-sized social networks identify, weed out, and report child pornography. 

Thorn, which received a $60 million grant from TED last spring, will start selling the product publicly after a year and a half of beta testing with 10 companies, including Flickr, Imgur, VSCO, Slack, Medium, Vimeo and GoDaddy. The software, called Safer, has enabled Flickr to report porn that led to the identification and recovery of 21 children, ranging from 18 months to 14 years. The perpetrator is now in federal prison. 

"Being able to scan Flickr in real-time for child abuse content provides our human moderation team critical intelligence," says Flickr Head of Trust and Safety Holly Lawrence. 

The tool works by using computer code to locate and block child porn images and videos that have already been identified elsewhere on the web, and by using an image classifier to identify images and videos that are not already in its database. The codes assigned to those new images and videos can then be shared with other databases to help rid other social networks from the material — and help authorities track down criminals. 

The product is tailored to medium-sized social networks and other websites where users upload content, because larger companies like Facebook generally have their own systems. Its target customers "know they need to address this, but building their own tool is either too expensive, or they don't even know where to start," says Thorn CEO Julie Cordua, a former Motorola marketing executive. "That's the benefit of Safer – we've created a turnkey solution that allows companies not to have to clear a big hurdle on their own." The tool costs upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, but all of the money it makes is funneled right back into its mission. 

Kutcher, who cofounded Thorn with Demi Moore in 2009 (they were married from 2005-2012), told Business Insider that Safer is a "giant leap forward" in Thorn's goal to "eliminate child sexual abuse material from the internet."

The TED grant allows Thorn to hire top tech talent that may be seeking more meaning from their work than they could find as an engineer or data scientist at a startup or typical tech company. "We can't provide stock options or fancy snacks in the kitchen or a pool table, but we can provide a competitive salary and incredible mission to solve a really difficult problem," Cordua says. 

For example, Thorn engineers can celebrate Flickr's success using the Safer tool, because "what you've built just gave those children a chance at a completely different life," she says. 

Thorn is looking for more tech talent to work on Safer and other projects. The  60-person, fully-remote nonprofit is hiring engineers and data scientists. Cordua says Thorn's work will help to lead the entire tech community from a place of reaction to user reports of child porn to proactively finding it, removing it, and reporting it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit supported by the US Justice Department. 

Thorn, so named because thorns protect roses the way the nonprofit protects children, has a new urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company says, because content moderators have been laid off while uploads of child porn have increased. 

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