Not enough being done to protect children online: report

Tuesday, 17 October, 2023

Not enough being done to protect children online: report

Some of the world’s largest tech companies are failing to adequately detect and address online child sexual exploitation, according to a report.

Since 2015, Australia has consistently ranked the third highest country in the world by both volume and value of transactions to procure the online sexual exploitation of children from the Philippines. In September 2023, IJM released the Scale of Harm report, which showed that half a million, or one in 100, children in the Philippines were subjected to online sexual exploitation just last year.

In February 2023, the eSafety Commissioner issued legal notices to five tech companies under its transparency powers in Australia’s Online Safety Act, requiring X (formerly Twitter), Google, TikTok, Twitch and Discord to answer questions about measures they have in place to address child sexual and abuse exploitation materials on their platforms.

International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia welcomed the report and congratulated the eSafety Commissioner for taking steps to hold big companies accountable.

“IJM welcomes the eSafety Commissioner’s action against the two tech companies who have not complied with transparency notices issued to them relating to measures they have in place to address online child safety,” said Steve Baird, CEO at IJM Australia.

He said that tech companies must be transparent and report how they detect and address child sexual exploitation and abuse, otherwise it will be impossible to understand the scale of this issue.

In a similar vein, the eSafety Commissioner’s report states: “We can only know the true scale of the global problem if all online services use readily available technologies and human moderation to detect child sexual exploitation and abuse material, video livestreaming of abuse, grooming of children and sexual extortion.”

“I am appalled at the serious shortfalls in company practices uncovered in this report, including the failure of certain big tech companies to detect livestreamed child sexual abuse, despite existing technology,” Baird said.

“It is staggering to me that two of the world’s leading tech companies are not blocking links to known child sexual exploitation material, despite the availability of databases from expert organisations that identify links to such material and the websites that facilitate it.

“Not only are known links to child sexual exploitation material not being taken down, but in some cases, tech companies are taking 13 hours to respond to user alerts.

“The sad reality is that Australians are paying for the online sexual abuse of children, including in the Philippines, over popular tech platforms that are failing to comply with basic child safety standards under Australian law,” Baird said.

The Scale of Harm report recommends ensuring tech companies use technology designed to prevent or disrupt livestreamed and other child sexual abuse images and videos on their platforms.

IJM has advocated for and applauded the world-leading powers of Australia’s eSafety Commissioner; however, it has also pointed out that these powers cannot result in meaningful transparency and accountability unless tech companies treat these notices seriously and disclose the information requested by the Commissioner.

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