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Nikon exhibits new ‘secure’ metadata

Nikon is publicly showcasing the first camera equipped with a new photo metadata prototype, developed by the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), that adds a secure digital signature and tracks editing and publishing.

The new metadata system claims to be able to track and make available all information about post-processing edits, as well as where it has been published.

The CAI is a ‘group working together to fight misinformation and add a layer of verifiable trust to all types of digital content’. It was launched in 2019 by Adobe, in partnership with Twitter and The New York Times. CAI members now include the likes of AFP, AP, BBC, Getty, Nikon, Leica, Microsoft, Reuters, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others.

The first initiative is to create a more robust and secure photo metadata that allows anyone to certify ‘the source and provenance of digital content, to combat image falsification and unauthorised use’.

Inside Imaging covered the initiative in 2021. Here an excerpt:

It will use ‘cryptographic asset hashing to provide verifiable, tamper-evident signatures that the image and metadata hasn’t been unknowingly altered’. Cryptographic asset hashing is a mathematical process used with cryptocurrencies and password storage that is apparently very secure and cannot be tampered with.

CAI has brought in photo verification platform, Truepic, to handle this crypto blockchain side of the business. The company has existing technology that uses crypto-related solutions to ‘protect the integrity of… captured information’.

Right. Some folk will now likely be scratching their heads in confusion at the CAI’s opaque terminology, so let’s break it down in layperson’s terms…

The metadata of the future?
There will have to be widespread adoption of the new CAI technology. This requires camera companies, image editing software developers, news organisations, photojournalists, and others to opt in and enable the technology to work on their equipment.

The result is each process – from a photojournalist capturing an image, a picture editor making adjustments, through to publishing an article and posting to social media – will be recorded, signed, and stamped. A ‘confirmed photo’ icon then appears on the image, and users are able to access a database with all the recorded information.

If a picture editor crops and adjusts the colour of an image, the post-processing software signs off on these changes and it will become publicly available.

Santiago Lyon, photojournalist and CAI head of Advocacy and Education, explains this is an industry response to a major issue facing online image manipulation.

A screenshot of the new metadata technology in action. Speaking of which, you can’t track a screen capture, can you?

‘…We (The New York Times) sometimes receive doctored images, conspiracy theories, and fake news from outlets disguised as news organisations; content produced to further an agenda or simply to make money from advertising, should it go viral,’ he wrote in a blog post.
‘Regardless of source, images are plucked out of the traditional and social media streams, quickly screen-grabbed, sometimes altered, posted and reposted extensively online, usually without payment or acknowledgement and often lacking the original contextual information that might help us identify the source, frame our interpretation, and add to our understanding.’

Metadata is the ‘long-established’ standard for image file attribution, and this information is easily altered by a third-party. Social media platforms often strip away metadata from uploaded photos, for instance. Overall it’s an ‘imperfect and inefficient’ attribution system, according to CAI, that forces ‘content moderators, fact-checkers and end-users… to reconstruct context’.

It looks like the CAI wasn’t just all talk and has been tinkering away, with a prototype ready to debut within a Nikon Z 9. This is happening now at Adobe Max 2022 Creativity Conference, which finishes today, October 2022.

Nikon, the first camera company to become a CAI member, states the objective of exhibiting this new metadata prototype is to showcase the current technological  development, and ‘does not mean or imply this specific model will one day be equipped with this function’.

That being said, Nikon is ‘currently developing a function that supports confirmation of the authenticity of images by attaching information to include their sources and provenances.’

‘Facilitating the detection of image falsification and unauthorised use as well as fact checking, which has traditionally required a great deal of time, effort, and money, will help protect images from misuse.’


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