U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel has told social media companies that they must take children’s safety as seriously as they do their bottom line.
She also called on G7 partners to back the U.K. approach in holding the internet technology giants to account if harmful content continues to be posted across their platforms and if they neglect public safety when designing their products.
Her call to action comes as the British government launches a new fund aimed at tackling child sexual abuse online. Innovators and tech experts will be given government funding to show the internet technology giants how they can better design their products and not increase the risk of their platform’s being a safe haven for child sexual abusers.
The new Safety Tech Challenge Fund will award five organizations from across the world up to £85,000 each to develop innovative technologies to keep children safe when using end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
Companies awarded Tech Challenge funding will develop innovative solutions to show the silicon valley giants how they could continue to detect images or videos showing sexual abuse of children while ensuring end-to-end encryption is not compromised.
The fund, which will run for five months from November 2021, is part of the government’s wider effort to tackle harmful behaviors taking place on social media and other online platforms.
John Clark, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) President & CEO, said the NCMEC applauds the launch of the Safety Tech Challenge Fund. “Last year we received more than 21 million reports relating to child sexual exploitation, and the numbers of reports this year are likely to be even higher.”
Julie Inman Grant, Australian e-safety Commissioner, said the global community must strive to combat the scourge of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, wherever it is found. “Encryption is a many-layered, complex issue that requires detailed consideration and thoughtful review in order to minimize the potential for harm and ensure that a suitable balance is struck between security, privacy and safety.
“There are promising technological breakthroughs that can surface illegal content in E2EE environments without sacrificing user privacy, and we must harness the possibilities that they offer in a unified and integrated way.
“We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the U.K.’s safety tech challenge investment fund and working in collaboration with our partners to ensure that effective solutions are able to be implemented and adopted globally.”
Technologies developed will be evaluated by independent academic experts to measure effectiveness and privacy safeguards. Applications for funding is open to applicants globally until October 6, 2021.