Tech companies could be fined up to £18million for failing to protect children from sexual abuse

There were over 20 million reports from tech companies involving over 80 million videos and images of children being sexually abused last year

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Tech companies will have to make sure they can ensure greater protection for children under new Home Office proposals.

Under an amendment to the Online Safety Bill, the UK's communications regulator Ofcom will be given extra powers to ensure technology companies take action to prevent, identify and remove harmful child sexual abuse and exploitation content from their platforms.

Last year there were over 20 million reports from tech companies involving over 80 million videos and images of children being sexually abused.

The Internet Watch Foundation says that in 2021 it blocked 8.8 million attempts by UK users to access video and images of children suffering sexual abuse.

Ofcom will be able to demand that technology companies including social media platforms develop new technology to better detect and tackle harmful content.

Ex Radio 1 DJ Mark Page
Ex Radio 1 DJ Mark Page

If they fail to do so, the watchdog will be able to impose fines of up to £18 million or 10% of the company’s global annual turnover.

Earlier this year a former Radio 1 DJ was jailed for 12 years for arranging the sexual abuse of children in the Philippines. Mark Page, 63, from Teesside, used a webcam to contact victims and travelled to the country. Page had his phone, tablet and a computer seized in 2020 after Facebook monitors raised concerns.

In 2021, a man who posed as teenage girls online and blackmailed 51 boys into sending him indecent images of themselves was jailed for 25 years.

David Wilson, 36, from King's Lynn, admitted 96 offences. Officers began compiling intelligence on Wilson after Facebook identified 20 accounts of boys ranging from 12 to 15 years old, who had sent images of themselves to an account seemingly belonging to a 13-year-old girl.

David Wilson was jailed for 25 years
David Wilson was jailed for 25 years

Home Secretary, Priti Patel said: “Child sexual abuse is a sickening crime. We must all work to ensure criminals are not allowed to run rampant online and technology companies must play their part and take responsibility for keeping our children safe.

“Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive – we need both, and we can have both and that is what this amendment delivers.”

The National Crime Agency estimates there are between 550,000 to 850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual risk to children. In the year to 2021, there were 33,974 obscene publications offences recorded by the police.

Rob Jones, NCA Director General for child sexual abuse said: “Technology plays an extremely important part in our daily lives and its benefits are undeniable.

“But it is also a fact that online platforms can be a key tool in a child abuser’s arsenal. They use them to view and share abuse material, seek out and groom potential victims, and to discuss their offending with each other.

“Identifying these individuals online is crucial to us uncovering the real-world abuse of children.

“We are taking significant action in this space and, alongside UK policing, we are making record numbers of arrests and safeguards every month.

“While this will always be a priority, we need tech companies to be there on the front line with us and these new measures will ensure that.”

The Chief Executive of the NSPCC, Sir Peter Wanless, says urgent action is needed to protect children from online abuse. The charity’s latest analysis shows online grooming crimes have jumped by more than 80% in four years.

And he believes the new proposals “will strengthen protections around private messaging and ensure companies have a responsibility to build products with child safety in mind. This positive step shows there doesn’t have to be a trade-off between privacy and detecting and disrupting child abuse material and grooming.”