How Advanced Technology Can Help Detect Indecent Images Online

How Advanced Technology Can Help Detect Indecent Images Online

Advanced technology and the internet can allow people to conduct illicit activities such as indecent images offences anonymously and in secret. It takes even more sophisticated tech to track these criminals down.

In this article, we’re looking at the ways in which advanced technology can be used to detect indecent images online.

What are indecent images?

This term refers to photographs or videos which depict a person – often a child – who is naked, partially clothed or in a compromising position. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the digital posting, sharing, and downloading of indecent images online and, such crimes include:

  • Child offences - The posting, sharing, accessing or downloading of images showing children who are unclothed or images of children which are of a sexual nature.
  • Adult offences - This is the posting of images showing an adult unclothed or involved in a sexual activity. This includes ‘revenge porn’ whereby a scorned lover posts sexual images of their former partner online in revenge for that person ending the relationship. The UK’s first ever revenge porn prosecution occurred in 2018 when YouTube star, Chrissy Chambers, successfully sued her former partner after he posted sexual images of her online.

Although child offences are more serious and carry more severe penalties including, in many cases, a custodial sentence, both offences can be prosecuted in a court of law. It's reported that during the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there were over eight million attempts to access indecent images online in the UK - a shocking figure which shows the extent of this crime which is reaching pandemic levels in itself.

How advanced technology is helping to detect indecent images online

If left to the humble human, searching for indecent images online is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. However, these days, advanced technology is lending a hand in finding these images and stamping out the perpetrators. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the ways in which technology is tackling this extremely harmful crime:

AI nudity detection / blocking

The use of Artificial Intelligence is becoming more mainstream by the day, and its many uses includes the ability to scan and identify data at lightning speed. Because of this, many authorities are using AI powered nudity detection tools to find indecent images online. Additionally, apps such as those used by social media platforms are using AI based nudity blocking to prevent users from posting indecent images to their platforms.

Age assurance technology

In the UK, there are over 4,000 cases involving indecent images of children every year but, sadly, only around half of these go to court due to a number of reasons - and many more go undetected.

Advances in age assurance technology are helping to combat this devastating crime in 2023. The technology is able to quickly examine a number of factors within an image in order to provide a rough estimate of the subject’s age. An image will then be flagged if the subject appears to be a child.

Vigil AI

Tech company, Qumondo, has developed the Vigil AI system which is able to drill deeper into the detection of child abuse images online. The system recognises whether an image features a child, whether it features child abuse, and the severity of that abuse. It then sorts these images into one of three categories:

  1. Involving penetrative sexual activity
  2. Includes non-penetrative sexual activity
  3. Other indecent images

This helps authorities to prioritise and investigate in order to quickly catch perpetrators and prevent further abuse. Qumondo’s CEO, Ben Gancz, says, ‘It’s a much more difficult classification problem than a normal image. When someone’s approaching the age of 18, it’s very difficult for a human to recognise whether someone’s an adult or a child. With Vigil AI, several types of machine learning are used to help make this distinction’.


Created by Reading based SafeToNet, SafeToWatch software has been developed to analyse video content for indecent images. The AI based software is able to analyse video content frame by frame in order to identify sexual, graphic or violent content.

The software, which has been proven to be 92% effective, will, it is thought, become a valuable tool for companies such as social media platforms. They will be able to use it to identify and quickly react to potentially harmful video content which is shared on their platforms.

A clean sweep for the world wide web

In the UK, there are around 60,000 registered sex offenders and, unfortunately, a great many of these have access to the internet. You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate the level of harm that can - and often is - caused by these criminals.

Thankfully, the new wave of advanced technology is adding another layer of protection in the fight against indecent images online. Authorities and social media companies alike welcome this technology as a way of helping to keep the internet safe for all, and to protect innocent children from these predators.