Tech coalition reveals five-pillar plan to ‘eradicate’ online child abuse

11 Jun 2020

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Project Protect is a new five-point plan to ‘eradicate’ online child sexual abuse, with support from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others.

The Technology Coalition has announced that a new global effort is needed to tackle the issue of online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). In a statement, the group – which includes Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter as members – said this is because “the world had changed” since the coalition’s foundation 15 years ago.

“The number of people online – more than 4.5bn in 2020 – has added to the challenge of keeping the internet a safe place,” the group said in a statement.

“As a result, the technological tools for detecting and reporting CSEA content have become more sophisticated, but so too have the forms of abuse we seek to prevent and eradicate.”

This new effort, called Project Protect, is a five-pillar plan to try and eliminate online CSEA as much as possible. This includes establishing a multimillion-dollar research and innovation fund to build tools to locate and eradicate CSEA, the publication of an annual report on the coalition’s progress, and an annual forum for experts to share best practices and drive collective action.

The coalition also revealed new non-industry partners, including the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (EVAC) and the WeProtect Global Alliance. EVAC has been tasked with leading the coalition’s research efforts into tackling online abuse, while the WeProtect Global Alliance will guide best practice on transparency in the project’s efforts.

Surge in cases due to Covid-19

The Technology Coalition highlighted previous work developed by its members, including Microsoft’s collaboration with Dartmouth College to detect, remove and report millions of child abuse images and Google’s Content Safety API.

Speaking of the project, UNICEF’s assistant director and global chief of child protection, Cornelius Williams, said: “Keeping our children safe in digital spaces is more important than ever as Covid-19 increased the amount of time they now spend online exponentially.”

As more people have been asked to stay at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports have emerged of a surge in online child abuse and sexual exploitation cases. In the US, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw a 106pc increase in suspected cases of online child exploitation in March versus the same time in 2019.

Meanwhile, the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation reported that with tech companies and law enforcement working under a reduced capacity because of Covid-19, there was an 89pc reduction in the number of child abuse images being removed between March and April of this year.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, said of the new project: “Project Protect brings together the brightest minds from across the tech industry to tackle a grave issue that no one company can solve on its own – child exploitation and abuse.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic