Feb 10, 2015 · 4 minutes

Of all the awful things discussed at last month's 24-hour Don't Be Awful event, few are as unequivocally horrible as "revenge porn." When intimate photos of a person are posted to the Internet without permission, it's not only a stomach-churning invasion of privacy -- it's also an invitation for further online harassment. And while operators of revenge porn sites are finally beginning to face legal consequences, it can be immensely difficult for victims to remove these compromising images from the Internet. At best, the ordeal becomes a sick game of whack-a-mole, as the photos continually resurface even after issuing countless takedown notices.

It's with these struggles in mind that Kate B, a startup worker in Silicon Valley, launched Undox.me. The site offers practical advice and emotional support to people who have had their images or personal information posted to the web without their consent. The name comes from the term "doxxing," a tactic that emerged on online forums like Reddit and 4Chan, wherein a person's photos (nude or otherwise), social security number, home address, or other identifiable information is published with the intent of shaming or endangering the victim. Of late, doxxing has become a popular strategy of that pathetic garbage fire of a "movement" known as Gamergate, as its pitiful adherents use it to target high-profile women in the gaming community like Zoe Quinn and Felicia Day.

Speaking at our Don't Be Awful event, Kate told me she created Undox.me because she herself was a victim of a dox. Though hers was a less targeted attack, it was still incredibly uncomfortable.

"I got really really familiar with the takedown process after finding that a bunch of my photos had been used to create impersonation online dating accounts," Kate said. "So after figuring out how it is I can go about removing them, I actually had a couple of friends who had friends of theirs that were suffering from a lot more serious problems with images they had shared with an ex-boyfriend or someone else that had come back to haunt them. And I found myself just kind of copying and pasting the How-To so often into emails for people that I decided I should probably just make it a site."

Through a series of How-To's and FAQ's, Undox.me guides victims through the takedown process for various platforms like Tumblr, YouTube, and Facebook. The site also offers some very general advice on how to proceed with legal action, if necessary. Finally, Undox.me addresses the emotional consequences of having had your privacy violated in such an egregious manner.

"Don’t panic," Kate advises. "And I think that’s part of that cultural stigma that says, 'Panic! Because this is going to ruin your life!' When in reality, in many situations, the only person whose life might really be ruined is the person who ends up in jail for posting them."

Undox.me is an extremely valuable resource on a number of levels. But even with the best advice at a victim's fingertips, it can seem like a never-ending nightmare to exorcise these images from the open, constantly-metastasizing web. Kate says that the tech platforms that host these photos are generally sympathetic and helpful in complying with individual takedown requests. But can and should they do more to help ease victims' burdens? To turn what's now a slow and manual process into something much faster and, at least in part, automated?

"Those are of course the kind of solutions that I know tech loves to solve," Kate said. "I think that if they could put forth methods like an open source ContentID, or best practices that are used internally to address abuse on their platforms, or even just providing an essential red telephone email that you can use immediately for cases of specifically revenge porn or other forms of extortion or harassment... That would help them, I think, not only triage their abuse tickets a lot more effectively, but also make their users feel safe on their platform, which is something that people have said over and over again in so many ways that they want."

The problem isn't just a technological one, however. To whatever extent these tech companies have "dropped the ball" on addressing revenge porn and abuse, I asked Kate if the culture and demographics of Silicon Valley play a role. After all, most of the technological workers at these companies are men who, while occasionally the victims of revenge porn, are much less likely to suffer online harassment than women.

"I think that we got a really important taste of that when seeing what happened with Secret," Kate said, "and the fact that you have people who form these products, who design them from the ground up, who think about the format... And if they can’t picture themselves as being at risk -- for any reason -- whether it’s that they don’t have this very gendered experience of having their images distributed without their consent, or otherwise feeling as if there would be a demand for that, then I think it’s hard for them to perceive that there’s going to be this kind of issue."

Watch the full chat below, and check out other videos from our Don't Be Awful event with attorney Roger Myers and Pando commenter extraordinaire Richard Bottoms.

[Image via Wikimedia]