Child Care Civic Tech

Facebook urged to address child safety concerns, before encryption

The platform will no longer be able to see and report illegal content to law enforcement, say activists.

London: More than 100 organisations, led by the UK-based The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), have signed an open letter urging Facebook to address concerns about child safety on its various platforms.

Urging Facebook to halt plans to heavily encrypt WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, the open letter said this would allow child predators to operate on the site undetected.

The letter, requested Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to stop its plans until “sufficient safeguards” are in place.

Police recorded over 4,000 instances where Facebook apps were used in child abuse image and online child sexual offences last year, according to the NSPCC.

“Data obtained from responses to a Freedom of Information request by 32 UK police forces showed Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were used in child abuse image and online child sexual offences last year — an average of 11 times a day,” the child rights organisation revealed in December last year.

“At a time when we could be looking to build upon years of sophisticated initiatives, Facebook instead seems inclined to blindfold itself,” read the letter seen by the BBC.

“We urge you to recognise and accept that an increased risk of child abuse being facilitated on or by Facebook is not a reasonable trade-off to make. Children should not be put in harm’s way either as a result of commercial decisions or design choices”.

The NSPCC warned that child sexual abuse will go undetected if Facebook continues with its plans to encrypt messaging on Facebook and Instagram without first putting clear safeguards in place.

“The platform will no longer be able to see and report illegal content to law enforcement, so police will be left working in the dark.

“More serious child abuse will likely take place on Facebook-owned apps as abusers won’t have to move their victims off the platform to other encrypted ones to groom them,’ it stressed.

According to Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online Policy, Facebook is actively choosing to give offenders a place to hide in the shadows and risks making itself a one stop grooming shop.

“For far too long Facebook’s mantra has been to move fast and break things but these figures provide a clear snapshot of the thousands of child sex crimes that could go undetected if they push ahead with their plans unchecked,” said Burrows.

A Facebook spokesperson said protecting the well being of children on its platform was “critically important” to it.

“We are working closely with child-safety experts, including NCMEC (the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), law enforcement, governments and other technology companies, to help keep children safe online,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Zuckerberg said last year he is working to make his social networking platform “privacy-focused” like WhatsApp.

Admitting that people want private, encrypted services, he said Facebook will become like the mobile messaging platform WhatsApp which is more secure with end-to-end encryption.

The Facebook CEO said he is focused on making WhatsApp and Instagram faster, simpler, more private and more secure, including with end-to-end encryption.

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