Child protection organisations issue warning to social media companies about online safety

A new child safety campaign launches today in response to social media giants’ plans to roll out end-to-end encryption on their platforms. The campaign named, No Place to Hide, is made up of a coalition of leading child safety campaigners, charities, tech experts and survivors of child sex abuse.  The steering group is made up of Barnardo’s, the Lucy Faithful Foundation, the Marie Collins Foundation and SafeToNet. 

End-to-end encryption could mean that social media platforms will no longer be able to detect cases of child sex abuse on their platforms, which would lead to them no longer being able to report it to the police.

This means they are willingly blindfolding themselves to millions of incidences of child sexual abuse. Under these plans it is estimated that around 14 million reports of suspected child sexual abuse could be lost every year.

  • In 2020 21.7 million reports of child sexual abuse material were made across social media platforms
  • Facebook alone accounted for a whopping 94% of these reports

The tide may be turning in people’s attitudes towards some of these companies following a wave of bad headlines and whistleblowing claims that they put profits above people.

Polling carried out by the campaign shows:

  • 72% of parents believe companies like Facebook put profits before children’s online safety.
  • 74% of parents think these companies are not doing enough to keep children safe online 
  • 90% think social media companies should have a responsibility to report child sexual abuse that occurs on their sites

Warnings about end-to-end encryption have come from the likes of the NCA, Interpol, police chiefs and child safety charities. Concerns are shared across political divides, with both the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper speaking out about their concerns.

Despite these urgent warnings, and the catastrophic implications, most worrying is that the majority of parents don’t know what the changes are, or what they will mean for children’s safety. Polling carried out by the campaign shows 66% of parents are not aware of what end to end encryption is, let alone the scale of the risks

No Place to Hide will call for a more balanced debate on the importance of protecting both user privacy and children’s safety.  Too often this has often been a polarised issue with advocates forced to “choose”. Tech experts are clear that it is possible to have end-to-end encryption in a way that doesn’t benefit child sex abusers, but only if social media companies invest in the technology. 

They will call on tech bosses to make a public commitment that they will not roll out end-to-end encryption until they have the technology to ensure any changes do not make it easier for child sex abusers to commit crimes and avoid detection as a result.

Campaign Spokesperson statement:

“Rolling out end to end encryption without the safety measures in place would be like turning the lights off on the ability to identify child sex abusers online.  These plans will mean that social media companies can no longer see the abuse that happens on their platforms and with the best will in the world you cannot report what you can’t see. We are asking social media companies not to blindfold themselves to the abuse that happens on their platforms. 

“We’re calling on social media platforms to make a public commitment that they will only implement end-to-end encryption when they have the technology to ensure children’s safety won’t be put in jeopardy as a result.  This debate has too often been portrayed as a trade-off between privacy and child protection when instead we want to work with these companies to find a solution that protects both.”  

Barnardo’s Interim Co-CEO Lynn Perry said:

“New technologies have transformed how young people learn, play and communicate – but they have also created new risks to children’s safety. We are concerned that some social media companies are planning to roll out end-to-end encryption and will make it harder to detect child abuse on their platforms. We are calling on these companies to make a commitment that they will not introduce end to end encryption until they first have the right safeguards in place, so they do not make it easier for abusers to harm children.”

Charlie Webster, TV Presenter and Campaigner, said:

“When we talk about child sexual abuse, we often focus on the act itself but it’s the befriending, the manipulation, the exploitation – grooming – the time spent in gaining the trust of a young person that we should focus on to protect children and prevent child sexual abuse. Social media is one of the tools perpetrators use to do this. By implementing E2EE we need to make sure we are not making it even easier for abusers to go undetected and groom children. The harm is devastating and long term. As a survivor of CSE, it’s something that a victim has to deal with for the rest of their lives.”

Rhiannon-Faye McDonald, Survivor and Subject Matter Expert, Marie Collins Foundation said:

“When people say this is about privacy, I couldn’t agree more. I have a right to privacy as a survivor of child sexual abuse. My abuse was recorded with photos and videos which may be out there now, as I speak. We want an assurance that E2EE will not enable and make it easier for child sex abusers to harm children either directly by finding and grooming them, or indirectly by circulating child sexual abuse material. Privacy is really important for everybody, as is our duty to protect.”

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