Canon's new photo database hopes to reduce image misuse in fake news

Images are sometimes used in misleading contexts to portray events inaccurately. Canon's TruthMark wants to stop that happening.

Photographer holding a DSLR camera.
Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Canon has launched a new photo database called TruthMark where photographers can upload images including information regarding the context in which they were taken. The intent behind TruthMark is to combat fake news articles that misuse images by giving photographers a place to tell the real stories behind their pictures.

It's not uncommon for fake news sources to twist the reality of an event by featuring images in their articles that are pulled from different contexts. During the last presidential election, for instance, a photograph of tour buses lined up in Austin was used as proof that Democrats were bringing in protesters to Trump rallies. The buses were for an unrelated tech conference.

Fingerprinting images – TruthMark was built in collaboration with Uncle Grey, a design and PR company in Copenhagen, Denmark, which created a digital fingerprinting technology that can recognize whether or not an image being uploaded has been tampered with. That way, only the original image with context from the photographer will be found in the database, if they chose to upload the original. The owner of the image retains all copyright.

Photos as misinformation – Photography is an easy way to trick people because pictures elicit an emotional response in a way that text doesn't. It's incredibly easy to pull a picture from the web that supports the idea of an article and most people won't think to evaluate its source.

TruthMark finds a match in its database and returns a description from the photographer.

Canon and Uncle Grey hope that enough photographers will start uploading their work to TruthMark before anywhere else so that anyone can go to the site, upload an image they found online, and see the context in which it was taken. That doesn't address the problem of people, you know, not checking sources. You can make a database but people still need to look at it. But TruthMark could at least make it harder for purveyors of fake news to get away with it.