Appreciating Apple’s effort to create a safer online space for children with its new CSAM detection and Communication safety in Messages, the UK government is calling out other tech companies to introduce technology to prevent the dissemination of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) on their platforms. In the interim, Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced a global ‘New Safety Tech Fund Challenge’ for organizations to develop innovative technology to keep children safe. She says, “modern technology has changed the world, in many ways for the better. We cannot allow it to be used to hurt children.”
Apple announced the new child safety features in August which included the controversial CSAM detection feature which would scan photos uploaded on iCloud for CSAM. Based on a NeuralHash system, the initial scanning would have been done on the device while the pictures uploaded on the cloud. And if an image matched the known CSAM hash provided by NCMEC, it would be stored as a safety voucher on the cloud. An account exceeding the 30 images (safety vouchers) threshold would be blocked and the concerned authorities would be involved.
Although the CSAM detection feature is designed to prevent the storage and spread of CSAM, experts argued that the system can be exploited by the government to monitor masses or certain individuals. They called it a ‘backdoor‘ to iPhone’s privacy. Because of widespread criticism, Apple has decided to delay to release of ‘Expanded Protections for Children’ to improve the system. The features were scheduled to launch in the Fall with iOS 15 and other software updates.
UK government sets up a fund for the development of CSAM detection like technology for the protection of children
Home Secretary expresses an urgent need to impose barriers to prevent predators from reaching out to children via online platforms and the spread of child pornography. She argues that in 2020, 21 million incidents of child sexual abuse were reported, worldwide and holds end-to-end encryption responsible for facilitating child abuse.
It is utterly appalling to know that the sexual abuse of children is incited, organised, and celebrated online. Child abusers share photos and videos of their abhorrent crimes, as well as luring children they find online into sending indecent images of themselves.
The introduction of end-to-end encryption must not open the door to even greater levels of child sexual abuse – but that is the reality if plans such as those put forward by Facebook go ahead unchanged. Hyperbolic accusations from some quarters that this is really about governments wanting to snoop and spy on innocent citizens are simply untrue. It is about keeping the most vulnerable among us safe and preventing truly evil crimes.
She is demanding that tech and social media companies actively participate in the effort to deter child abuse on their platforms, like Apple.
Recently Apple have taken the first step, announcing that they are seeking new ways to prevent horrific abuse on their service. Apple state their child sexual abuse filtering technology has a false positive rate of 1 in a trillion, meaning the privacy of legitimate users is protected whilst those building huge collections of extreme child sexual abuse material are caught out. They need to see though that project.
A ‘New Safety Tech Fund Challenge’ has been set up to award five organizations from around the world that can develop technologies to create safe online space for children.