UK government demands tech firms take action against child abuse images

3 Sep 2018

UK parliament buildings, London. Image: Ioan Panaite/Shutterstock

UK home secretary Sajid Javid sends out warning to tech firms as he discusses major child abuse imagery problems.

The UK government said that the response to the proliferation of child abuse imagery from tech firms such as Facebook is, so far, “nowhere near good enough”.

UK home secretary Sajid Javid said there was “overwhelming evidence” that content featuring child abuse was continuing to appear online in large quantities.

Sajid Javid points finger at tech firms

Javid said that the platforms need to take more decisive action, including the use of technology to block abuse images before they are uploaded. He added that more cooperation with authorities is needed.

“Getting this sort of horrific content off your platforms is the right thing for your business and the right thing for society, and all eyes are now on you to do the right thing.

“The reality is that the threat has evolved quicker than industry’s response … and there are some companies that refuse to take it seriously.” Javid said he had been impressed by the counterterrorism work carried out by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Apple, and added that he would like to see the same level of commitment on this issue.

He concluded: “I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it. If technology companies do not take more measures to remove this type of content from their platforms, then I won’t be afraid to take action.”

New statistics

Javid made the comments today (3 September) as the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that up to 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of a threat to children online. The Guardian noted that experts said this was a conservative estimate. The NCA said it had received 82,109 referrals for child sexual abuse images from social media firms in 2017 – a 700pc increase since 2012.

Javid’s department noted that the wider availability of faster internet speeds and growing simplicity of international money transfers are making the live streaming of abuse more common.

In a separate letter, the heads of many of the UK’s largest media and telecoms firms urged the government to introduce an independent regulatory scheme, overseeing content spread over social networks.

The joint letter was signed by media figures including the heads of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and BT, among others. It read: “We do not think it is realistic or appropriate to expect internet and social media companies to make all the judgement calls about what content is and is not acceptable, without any independent oversight.

“There is an urgent need for independent scrutiny of the decisions taken, and greater transparency.”

Updated, 3.48pm, 3 September 2018: This article was updated to correct a spelling error and clarify that Sajid Javid is the home secretary of the UK.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects