The Penis-Shaped Shadow Hanging Over Airtime

Chatroulette was a total flash phenomenon, connecting people all over the world through video. Airtime, the video network from Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, is trying to capture some of that magic. But.

There was always a shadow hanging over Chatroulette, and it was in the shape of penis. At least half of all encounters on Chatroulette were not with the smiling face of another human, but with a penis. Drooping or erect, hanging alone or being gently stroked by a hand. It's part of what killed it. And it's something that Sean and Shawn (Parker and Fanning, of Facebook and Napster fame, respectively) very much want to avoid with Airtime, their new video chat and sharing service that's somewhere between Chatroulette — you can talk to semi-random people! — and Skype — but with your Facebook friends as a buddy list. Plus you can share videos you like with the person you're chatting with.

Since Airtime is built on top of Facebook's network, the brute force anonymity that allowed the faceless, nameless dick parade to march across Chatroulette without consequence is inherently gone — a name and a face (both presumably the real deal) is attached to any penis that exposes itself on Airtime. Still, Airtime is strident in vocalizing its approach to "safety":

What is Airtime’s approach towards site safety?

Airtime is 100% committed to providing a safe environment and has a zero-tolerance approach towards inappropriate behavior as described in our Terms of Use. To minimize risk, Airtime only matches users under 18 with each other. All content harmful to minors, including content initiated by other minors, will be promptly escalated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Serious business. And what exactly is prohibited under its terms of use?

Inappropriate behavior
Nudity or partial nudity
Obscene or vulgar behavior
Sexually suggestive behavior
Animal cruelty
Drug use
Harassment or hate speech
Unauthorized advertising
Behavior that makes the reasonable User uncomfortable
Illegal activities
Submitting false reports of abuse or misconduct
Doing something that interferes with another’s uninterrupted use and enjoyment of Airtime
Impersonating other people
Recording content and distributing it without permission

Should you violate those things, Airtime has a "one-strike" rule for banning users. Also, Airtime is super happy to report you to the authorities: "We will report illegal behavior as circumstances warrant and fully cooperate with any law enforcement authorities or court order requiring or directing us to disclose the identity of our users." Which is in stark contrast to, say, Twitter, whose default pose is to fight the law on behalf of users.

It is, interestingly, not pursuing a purely technological solution to keeping penises from appearing on the service at all. Or if it is, it isn't working very well right now. The very first thing Brian Lam (old boss, forever friend) wanted to test out was Airtime's "dick algorithm" — to see if Airtime pro-actively screened out images of penises, much in the same way YouTube automatically screens copyrighted material (though it'd obviously use a different filtering system, something like the penis equivalent of "face detection" tech that you see in consumer digital cameras. Imagine being the engineer developing that one.) As far as we can tell, there is no "dick algorithm." I sent Brian a video of a dick (to be clear, not mine, and if you're reading this Airtime enforcers, he ASKED FOR IT). I'm blurring it out, but this is what landed in his inbox:

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