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Image processing: Google algorithm removes watermark on photos

Saturday, August 19th, 2017 | Gadgets

Visible watermarks to protect commercial images can be removed according to Google with a program with great accuracy. This is reported by the Google researcher Tali Dekel,
Michael Rubinstein, Ce Liu and William T. Freeman at a conference on image recognition in Hawaii. According to the new-page study (PDF), the watermarks are regularly applied to the different photos, so that an algorithm can estimate the superimposed image parts and restore the original image.

The watermarks serve to prevent the unlicensed use of copyrighted images. Manual removal is difficult, so far computer methods apparently not reliable.
The researchers looked at the study stock of agencies such as Can-Stock, 123RF, Fotolia or Adobe Stock. A few hundred pictures would each have been used to identify the components of the watermark and to remove them as a mask from the image. This is "almost perfect" possible is called in the paper. A different position of the watermark or a changed transparency or color would have no influence on the function of the algorithm.
Geometric changes helpful
However, this does not mean that visible watermarks would be completely unsuitable if the Google algorithm was freely available. The researchers gave hints as to how agencies could protect their pictures better in the future.
The most effective effect would be slight geometric changes in the watermark logos. In this case, interference of half a pixel or one pixel was sufficient. Although such logos could also be recognized, they could not be removed so well with the developed algorithm. Larger changes made the restoration of the images even more difficult, the researchers wrote in a blog contribution. Even if they could not guarantee that such randomization could not be cracked, they made the attack on image collections more difficult.


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