Monday 25 June 2018

Tech giants can surely do more to better protect children online

Stock image
Stock image
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The particulars of the case against a 26-year-old Dublin man accused of abusing young girls are deeply disturbing.

But it once again raises two basic questions: how can parents protect their children online and what should the online companies themselves do to better protect minors?

This case may again spur calls for internet giants to improve their ability to detect such clear abuse on social messaging and networking platforms.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, says that it has "zero tolerance for child exploitation" on both its platforms. Similarly, Snapchat says that it "goes to great lengths to prevent and respond to any instance of child exploitation on our platform".

But both companies spend hundreds of millions developing astounding algorithms that achieve largely business goals. Why is online abuse imagery unfixable?

One serious issue in all of this is the minimum age required - 13 - to use services such as Instagram, Skype and Snapchat. Once this is accepted, these networks argue that it's not for them to look inside users' private (sometimes encrypted) messages, regardless of what is being sent. Indeed, they argue that to do so would be a gross invasion of privacy.

There is evidence that patience in some quarters is wearing thin with this approach.

In the UK, the lead officer for child protection said that internet giants are "fundamentally enabling" paedophiles to sexually abuse children. Simon Bailey, lead officer for child protection at the UK's National Police Chiefs' Councils, accused companies of failing to take steps to stop their platforms being used for child abuse.

"They are making some progress but it is nowhere near enough," he told ITV News.

"These companies are making sums of money which are huge, but the fact is that children are being abused and not enough is being done to take down indecent imagery which is out there."

So is there any way to protect a child from the risk of online abuse, short of banning them from use of their phone?

There are some limited technical solutions. If your child mostly uses a phone or tablet as a communication device, you can install software that shows you a lot of what they're doing and saying.

At the extreme end of this is monitoring software such as mSpy (, which relays everything your child is doing on their phone, including normally hard-to-monitor systems such as Snapchat messages.

However, this costs around €150 a year and you'll have to download it on to your child's device. Moreover, if you want to see absolutely everything, you'll have to 'jailbreak' the targeted iPhone, iPod or iPad or 'root' the Android device, a task beyond most parents.

In the meantime, it's back to trying to talk to your child about their use of technology and who they're communicating with through its platforms.

Irish Independent

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