Evangelical groups are turning to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to help their members fight addiction to online pornography in a budding industry that one scholar calls an emerging “purity-industrial complex.”
As pornography has exploded beyond just websites to apps and social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr and others, tech companies closely affiliated with church groups are capitalizing on the fears of devout Christians that “porn is the greatest threat to Christian purity and even the moral standard of the nation,” said Samuel Perry, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma and author of Addicted to Lust.
“It used to be that if you wanted to access porn you had to go to a seedy movie theater or go in a trenchcoat and buy from a seedy store,” Perry told CQ Roll Call. But the accessibility and anonymity of the internet has dramatically increased access to pornography and brought new fears to the devout, he said.
Covenant Eyes, based in Owosso, Michigan, is one of the companies that designs and sells software filters designed to detect computer or device users accessing pornography. The company works with pastors and ministries to address pornography use among their members.
After buying a subscription to Covenant Eyes and installing the software on their devices, users are asked to provide an email and phone numbers for a list of friends, family or pastors, called accountability partners. If a user then accesses pornography on their laptop or smartphone, the software then would capture a screenshot, blur it and send an email to the “user’s ally or allies, who they have selected to help them in their journey,” says Dan Armstrong, a spokesman for the company.
The ally or allies then get what’s called a “concerning screenshot” and indicate that they should review the activity, according to the company’s website. “The concerning screenshot will not be immediately shown on the report so as not to immediately expose an ally (someone receiving a report) to potential pornography,” the website said. But the blurring will be removed if the reviewer clicks on an inspect button, the company said.
The company has about 300,000 current users who pay on average about $15.99 a month for unlimited use across multiple devices, Armstrong said. Almost all of them are men, and about 62 percent of them are married, he said. That works out to annual revenue of about $57 million.
Unlike older technology that relied on keyword filters to block access to websites based on words found embedded in a site’s code, Covenant Eyes now uses the latest in artificial intelligence, Armstrong said.
“We’ve developed our own image recognition and machine learning artificial intelligence to detect pornography on a screen,” Armstrong told CQ Roll Call.
The artificial intelligence-based image detection software may also aid in detecting accidental exposure to pornography, especially among young people, Armstrong said.
Not all pornography is sought or accessed through a Google search, Armstrong said.
“As it pertains to our young people, explicit content is fully accessible in many of the private, social media platforms that they live on,” he said, including via direct messages on Instagram that can contain unsolicited pornography or user-created content by porn performers on premium Snapchat accounts.
If the AirDrop feature on an iPhone is not disabled, for example, “a child could become the victim of ‘cyberflashing’ from complete strangers or peers, who use the content to mock and bully,” he said. The AirDrop feature allows iPhone users in physical proximity to each other to share content on each other’s phones.
Covenant Eyes is not the only company selling porn detection software. X3watch, an offshoot of a company called xxxchurch.com, is another. The company’s website says its founder, Craig Gross, has been working since 2002 on software that would track, filter and report pornography to a subscriber’s accountability partner. The software was intended to be free, and “pastors were ecstatic about the idea,” according to the website….
The above comes from a Nov. 19 story on Roll Call.
What’s next, an alarm that sounds each time we purchase or consume an alcoholic beverage? Big Brother is here, watching you!
This is a great app. They only contact someone IF you sign up and TELL them who to contact when you are struggling and falling back into porn. I have long seen it promoted by many Catholics. It gives you an accountability partner. Maybe you only read the title and not the article.
Please do not discourage anyone from using Covenant Eyes. Dehumanizing is a big problem in America today. As a woman I have long been looked at by some as an object only for another’s pleasure. Porn is destroying families and souls. The list is long for other problems it leads people into.
Bob – you miss the point. YOU are asking your friends to hold YOU accountable. Shame still works, that’s good news. And by the way, if you’re looking at internet porn, “big brother” already knows it anyway.
Thank God for services like Covenant Eyes and others. These services are for people who choose accountability. I’ve been involved in men’s ministry for many years and did have a man ask if I could be the person notified if and when he went to an inappropriate or questionable website. If anyone thinks porn isn’t a problem for Catholics, they’re either ignorant or in denial. Ask any priest. Many Catholic men have become addicted to pornography and many Catholic teens view such on their smart phones. (I know of some who’ve admitted to their youth ministers that they’ve accessed porn while their parents where driving them home from church!) I know this is an unpleasant topic. But, like cancer, there’s no cure unless the disorder is addressed. The archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas addresses it in all the parishes there. Check out what they do at https://www.archkck.org/myhouse
Thanks be to God, there is deliverance, freedom, forgiveness and healing.
This is too disturbing to read! It sounds like a lot of married men who go to church regularly– Catholic and Protestant– are helpless, hopeless— addicts of filth, on the Internet! Hard to believe! No fear of the Devil, and Hell?? And no shame, sorrow, or guilt, for wounding Our Blessed Lord so much?? No blushing, even– they are so used to such horrendous filth and sin?? The Devil has completely slain all these church-going men?? Why don’t they all throw their tech devices in the trash, then– and get rid of them, forever?? Go out and serve God and mankind, do hard work….
I will complete the above post, of Nov. 22, at 10:51am. I don’t think, previously, in the history of mankind, that we have ever had such an extreme, horrific problem– as men– sincere, devout church-goers, even!– hopelessly addicted to pornography! In the era of our American Founding Fathers– what would they think of such a thing?? Maybe these men should throw away their tech devices– and do some strict prayer and penance! Go out and serve God and mankind! Fight the CA fires, help the sick, disabled, elderly, homeless, poor, persecuted, and dying! Do all they can, with the help of God– to save their souls!
To be honest, I think there are plenty worse problems with men such as murder, rape, pedophilia, incest, oppression of woman, etc. Find some perspective.
Amber– For devout, church-going, mostly married men to “accept” pornography— to start viewing it constantly– in the “Christian” family home — that is extremely weird, sickening, unusual– and horrific! Men used to be raised with a strong understanding of right and wrong, a good Moral Conscience, SELF-CONTROL, maturity, responsibility– and respect for God! One or two dirty pictures?– Unacceptable! Time for Confession! They would not “accept” FILTH– like the dirty, immature, liberal-leftist “Me-Generation” psychologists!! Pornography destroys marriages and families! And leads to serious crimes– no respect left, for God nor mankind!
I will complete my post of Nov. 22, at 10:51am. Perhaps these hopelessly porn-addicted men should throw away their sin-poisoned, high-tech devices, get out their Rosaries– do lots of strict prayer and penance– and go out and do lots of service to God and mankind– fight the CA fires, help the poor, needy, sick, disabled, homeless, persecuted, and dying! And seek, by God’s help– to save their own souls! I don’t think, historically– that we have ever previously seen a problem with men and porn– to such an extreme, lethal magnitude!
Anon., No one is “hopelessly addicted to pornography” (as you say) if they know there is help, hope, freedom, forgiveness and healing. That’s the point of Covenant Eyes, what the Archdiocese of Kansas City (Kansas) is doing and other such ministries. And, of course, prayer and penance are a part of this. Let’s offer a lifeline to men, and others, struggling with such devastating sin and shame.
Deacon Craig– When I said “hopelessly addicted”– I meant– they are all so “out-of-control!!’ A very unusual situation! Men of past generations were not so “out-of-comtrol!”. Especially in a church-going, devout, Catholic family home! One or two dirty pictures, — remorse– and next–Confession on Sat! Men used to be raised with an understanding of right and wrong, maturity, a good Moral Conscience, self-control, and responsibility– and to unselfishly serve God and mankind! They were not babyish, soft on themselves, selfish, immature– like dirty “hippies,” and immature, dirty “Me-Generation” psychologists!
Catholics used to be taught, “avoid the near occasion of sin!” Pray hard, when tempted! Do penance! For sexually-tempted boys — distract your mind, go play sports, do some chores and hard physical work! Learn to put up with the pain and sufferings and discomforts of life–“offer it up!” Say your Rosary! We used to have a good, responsible, morally decent Church, and country– with CENSORSHIP of all morally-harmful– SINFUL!!!— materials! That’s a necessity, for a good and decent Church and Nation– CENSORSHIP!!
When Satan attacks the sanctity of the Catholic home and family, in this extremely evil, deviant manner– an entire country– and civilization–
can be totally destroyed! Never believe the Devil and his lies! And never believe the dirty “hippies,” the filthy, “Freudian” psychologists– — and the immoral leftist-liberals! Christ and Our Blessed Mother speak the Truth!
In the 1960s, after the Council– and the end of Fri. abstinence, Legion of Decency movie ratings, book imprimaturs, along with little Catechism instruction — plus, the filthy, destructive “hippies” and liberal-leftists everywhere — our family just turned our backs on it all– and ignored it!! We carefully avoided all unwanted material– and NO filthy, violent, dope-driven, rock “music!” Sorry– NO “tolerance,” NO WAY!! Today, we tragically see clerics accept some of these shameful evils! No wonder so many Catholic men of today, end up easy prey for Satan, on the filth-loaded Internet!
I’d be interested in knowing how this service can distinguish between the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and say, Hustler magazine?
Unless it’s changed, it is based not on pixels, but rather on the website to which a person “goes.” For example, one is able to access the Vatican website, but not that of a porn magazine (without having one’s accountability partner notified).
Satan is very busy, in New York State! There are now new laws, requiring all churches, as well as all religious schools and hospitals, to hire pro-abortion and pro-LGBT employees! We live in a “fallen world,” dominated by the Prince of Darkness! Today’s Church is very naive about that! Today, Sun. Nov. 24, is the Feast of Christ the King! The Church had better get busy, and work for Christ:’s Kingdom! The conflict is raging, between Christ and Satan!