Silicon Valley is under pressure again, this time over online paedophilia

Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty ImagesHome Secretary Sajid Javid.
  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned about the sheer volume of paedophilic content available online.
  • He is expected to announce new measures to combat the problem later on Monday.
  • The UK’s National Crime Agency revealed that it received over 80,000 industry referrals for child sex abuse images in 2017, which represents a 700% increase since 2012.
  • The agency asked tech companies to cooperate with law enforcement more to combat online child sexual abuse.
  • Google also announced on Monday that it is rolling out a new AI tool to help NGOs and industry partners track down child abusers.

Silicon Valley is having a rough week.

After salvos from President Trump over purported bias in Google’s search results, and calls from powerful broadcasters for more regulation, tech firms are now under pressure from UK authorities to tackle online child sexual abuse.

On Monday, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said it received more than 80,000 industry referrals for child sex abuse images in 2017. That’s a sevenfold increase over five years.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid used the numbers as the jumping off point for an editorial in The Sun, where he said he was making it his mission to crack down on child sexual abusers online. He is making a speech later today in which he is expected to announce new funding for law enforcement.

While it did not name names, the NCA stated that it had seen an increase of, “hidden or encrypted online opportunities for higher risk offending.”

“We are seeing an increase in the number of sophisticated offenders using the dark web to groom and harm children on the mainstream internet,” said NCA Director Rob Jones.

He said that investigators are having to deal with offenders who are committing preventable crimes such as sharing illegal images already known to law enforcement, and he suggested that tech companies could have the answer.

He said: “The technology exists for industry to design out these offences, to stop these images being shared. Whilst some online platforms have taken important steps to improve safety, we are asking them to take it to the next step; to innovate, to use their brightest minds, and to invest in preventing these online offences from happening in the first place.”

At least some of the commentary seems to be directed at Google. Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt accused the search giant last week of not cooperating with intelligence agencies in removing child abuse content.

He wrote: “Seems extraordinary that Google is considering censoring its content to get into China but won’t cooperate with UK, US and other 5 eyes countries in removing child abuse content.”

Google announced on Monday the release of a new free artificial intelligence tool to help charities and industry partners track down child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

“By using deep neural networks for image processing, we can now assist reviewers sorting through many images by prioritising the most likely CSAM content for review,” the company said.

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