A silhouette of a young child looking on the computer

Tech giants unite to clamp down on child abuse online

Image credit: Wallky | Dreamstime

A number of tech firms, including the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter, have announced a new joint venture designed to better tackle child sexual abuse content online.

Speaking as part of the existing Technology Coalition of digital firms, the companies have announced Project Protect – which they say will improve the cross-industry approach to stopping child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) content appearing online.

According to the group, the project includes a “five pillar” plan consisting of pushing innovation in technology to detect and stop such content. It also aims to encourage more collective action, funding for more independent research, increased information sharing and greater transparency and accountability.

Last week, industry experts told MPs on the UK Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee that social media firms are still not doing enough to stop the spread of online child abuse.

Robert Jones, from the National Crime Agency (NCA), and Susie Hargreaves, from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), called on the sector to do more and argued there is “no excuse” why more is not already being done given the detection technology available to the major platforms.

Jones told MPs the response of social media firms is being “hampered by a lack of regulation”. Furthermore, both he and Hargreaves said the Government’s proposed Online Harms regulation, which would grant greater penalties for firms who fail to protect users, is vital to improving this response.

Project Protect will also establish a multi-million pound research and innovation fund to support the building of tools to prevent the spread of CSEA content. It will also create a new forum of experts and a commitment to publish annual progress reports on industry efforts.

Formed in 2006, the Technology Coalition is a partnership of 18 technology companies of various sizes that includes large tech firms such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Snapchat.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said she welcomed the steps taken by the tech firms involved, after several signed up to a collection of voluntary principles around online safety earlier this year.

“The sexual abuse of children online is sickening and we must all work collaboratively to eradicate this crime,” she said. “I welcome this step from the Tech Coalition and hope this drives meaningful change to protect our children.”

She added: “The voluntary principles to counter online child sexual exploitation and abuse is a landmark blueprint to keep our children safe online.

“Myself and the five country partners have been clear that technology companies need to work quickly and go further to address the critical issues that could leave children vulnerable to online predators.”

In a blog post announcing the plans, the group said advances in technology and social media had “added to the challenge of keeping the internet a safe place”. However, after, a consultation with experts had “renewed investment and ongoing commitment to our work seeking to prevent and eradicate online CSEA”.

The coalition said it was also working with The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (EVAC) and the WeProtect Global Alliance as part of the project.

“I’m delighted to see a renewed commitment by the technology industry to fight child sexual exploitation and abuse online with the launch of Project Protect,” Hargreaves said. “It’s imperative that companies come together and fight this in partnership in order to gain real results, for children.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said the project “brings together the brightest minds from across the tech industry to tackle a grave issue” while Twitter’s head of trust and safety Del Harvey said the firm welcomed the “renewed effort to collaborate with our peers”.

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