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To Help Dissidents, YouTube Introduces Face-Blurring Tool

In an effort to make posting video on YouTube safer for activists, YouTube has announced a new tool that automatically obscures faces.

"Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old's basketball game without broadcasting the children's faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube," Amanda Conway, a policy associate at YouTube wrote in a blog post.

She added: "YouTube is proud to be a destination where people worldwide come to share their stories, including activists. Along with efforts like the Human Rights Channel and Citizentube that curate these voices, we hope that the new technologies we're rolling out will facilitate the sharing of even more stories on our platform."

YouTube has been particularly important in Syria, where the opposition has used it to document protests and government offensives against civilians. It has also used the video site to organize.

In her blog post, Conway added that the technology was imperfect and that activists should still take other precautions to remain safe.

Update at 7:55 p.m. ET. How Imperfect Is It?

Marissa Alioto, NPR's social media intern, sent us this update:

"Josiah Christensen asks, 'By imperfect, do they mean that the original uploaded video remains unaltered, or do they mean that the blur can be removed using video enhancement software?'

"Here's what InformationWeek has to say:

"'YouTube's face blurring system creates a new copy of the video in question with the blur effect, and provides an option to delete the original, unaltered video. This prevents authorities from seeking the original raw footage from YouTube, although the person posting the video must make sure he or she hasn't retained a local copy.

"'YouTube says it would be difficult to bypass its blurring technology. "We can't say it's impossible to unblur, but we have made it incredibly difficult through pixelating the blurred regions and adding noise," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "In fact, we feel we've made it so difficult that it's not worth the immense effort required to try."'"

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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