New fears of online child abuse

Facebook’s apps were used in more than half of online child sex crimes, new NSPCC data reveals as the charity calls on the Government to deliver meaningful change in the Online Safety Bill to tackle the biggest threat to children online.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 11:47 am
The NSPCC is particularly fearful that end-to-end encryption will make life easier for abusers

In a single year, police recorded more than 9,470 instances where the means of communication was known in reports of child sex abuse image and online child sex offences - 52 per cent of which took place on Facebook-owned apps.

In the 12 months between October 2019 and October 2020 police forces in the North-West recorded 1,993 online child sex crimes where the method of communication was known. More than half of these involved Facebook-owned apps.

Instagram was used more than any other Facebook-owned platform, in over a third of all instances.

Meanwhile, Facebook and Messenger were used in a further 13 per cent, according to the data obtained from 35 police forces in England and Wales by the NSPCC via Freedom of Information requests.

The charity fears many of these could go unreported if Facebook proceeds with end-to-end encryption without necessary safeguards in place.

They urge the Government to give Ofcom the power to take early and meaningful action against firms whose dangerous design choices put children at risk.

It is crucial private messaging is in scope of legislation but the charity argues the current plans for it, released by the Government in December, need to be strengthened.

End-to-end encryption offers a range of benefits, but child protection experts, law enforcement worldwide and Facebook themselves have said it will hinder their ability to identify and disrupt child abuse on their services.

The NSPCC has repeatedly demanded that it should only be rolled out if and when platforms can demonstrate it won’t compromise children’s safety. Private messaging is a major source of risk as it is the most common avenue for abusers to contact children.

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