ISSN: 2736-6065

By Kate Brightwell, Head of Government Relations Europe, Adobe 

In May 2021, the European Commission presented a Guidance to strengthen the Code of Practice on Disinformation. This is an important step in the fight to tackle disinformation. However, the solutions to disinformation can and should go beyond focusing on the actions of the online platforms and advertising industry and issues of increasing transparency of ads, detection and removal of fake accounts and also focus on the longer-term solutions of verifying trustworthy content.  

While new technologies are facilitating the creation of digital content, we are also seeing the proliferation of altered – and often harmful – content online, including that which intentionally aims to misinform and deceive, such as “deepfakes”. In the fight to combat disinformation, co-regulatory measures have so far focused on detecting and taking-down deceitful content. In addition to detection, education and content provenance can serve as a long-term solution to the proliferation of harmful content online.  

When it comes to disinformation, it is critical to ensure transparency, understanding, and ultimately, trust in what we are consuming online, while empowering consumers. There should be a transparent way to inform the public who created original photos and videos, and how these assets were changed over time, while also ensuring that creative professionals and photojournalists receive credit for their work.  

Provenance, sometimes referred to as attribution, empowers content creators and editors, regardless of their geographic location, to voluntarily disclose information about who created or changed an asset, what was changed and how it was changed. Consumer research conducted in December 2020 in the UK and US showed that overwhelmingly people want tools to assess the veracity of what they are seeing online. 

In this spirit, Adobe launched the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) with the New York Times and Twitter in 2019, a multi-stakeholder project aiming to build a system providing provenance for digital media, giving creators a tool to claim authorship and empowering consumers to evaluate whether what they are seeing is trustworthy. The CAI has since expanded to 350+ partners, including AFP, BBC and Qualcomm.  

The Initiative aims to develop an open attribution solution that can be implemented across devices, software, publishing, and media platforms to address the increasing challenge of inauthentic media. Its goal is not to prescribe a unified single platform for authenticity, but to advocate for a set of standards that can be used to create and reveal provenance for images, documents, time-based media (video, audio) and streaming content. Although the initial implementations will focus on imagery, the mission is to specify a uniform method for enabling attribution for any type of digital content, including video, from various points of view through which diverse stakeholders can build about the trustworthiness of media. 

The CAI is intended to be open source and interoperable to ensure the widest adoption through an international global standard. The implementation of content provenance solutions would be aligned with the principles of respecting freedom of expression and preventing the censoring of critical, satirical, dissenting, or shocking speech, while also respecting the EU’s commitment to an open, safe and reliable internet.  

In February 2021, the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA) was created as an independent organization under the Joint Development Foundation tasked with creating specifications that set the standard for digital content provenance, the bedrock for a future of trust in media. In September 2021, the C2PA published a new draft technical specification for providing content provenance and authenticity for digital media, for public comment.  

The C2PA draft technical specification is designed to enable global, opt-in adoption of digital provenance techniques while meeting appropriate security requirements, which can create a rich ecosystem of higher-integrity digital content. Regulatory bodies and governmental agencies could also potentially utilize this specification to establish standards for digital provenance. The Coalition is seeking broad community participation in the spec review, the technical design and underlying trust model that will ensure the standard is strong, easy to implement, and most importantly, adopted by organizations and individuals globally.    

Late October marked a significant milestone in this journey with the launch of Content Credentials, Adobe’s new way to provide and assess digital content provenance and attribution whilst using Photoshop. This technology was made to the C2PA specifications (with no commercial gain to us or cost to our users) and can inspire others in the eco-system to adopt this technology for their own products using this open standard going forward. This matters because with widely adopted standards and open systems, available to all,  organizations and products across the internet can work together to make the digital world more open, safe and trustworthy.   

Sharing information on provenance will improve transparency in what people hear and see online, helping to build trust among consumers and allowing for better decision-making based on that content. These open standards can then be adopted by content publishers and creators to build this trust and ensure interoperability across the internet. 

In summary, industry commitments to provide tools which assist digital platforms or their users to check authenticity via provenance of digital content would greatly contribute to the European Union’s approach to fighting against disinformation. This is only possible with open development and deep collaboration among a broad set of diverse stakeholders. EU policymakers should promote the importance of content provenance solutions and consult with industry on this very important topic.  

Author bio:

Kate Brightwell is a Senior Government Relations Manager at Adobe specialising in tech policy. A driven Public Affairs practitioner with extensive knowledge of public policy and providing advice on the workings of Parliament, and Whitehall and EU. International Relations Masters graduate, with over fifteen years work experience in Parliament, public sector and private sector. 

Published by the European Liberal Forum. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the European Liberal Forum. 

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