The effects of a recent wave of investigations and probes orchestrated by child protection organizations, information security organizations, and government bodies across the globe; such as the NSPCC, 5Rights Foundation, UK ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office), and several others are having consequences for the social media tech industry. The investigations and probes stem from the online child endangerment issue in the sector, which comprises online child data privacy and safety policies, and sexual offenses. The safety of children online is a well-established topic, which has been an alarming problem for a long time. However, the fact that social media tech leaders are now known for lax privacy, cybersecurity, and data gathering practices only throws more fuel on the fire.
The recent investigations and probes have been instrumental in pushing tech corporation Meta Platforms, Inc.‘s end-to-end encryption promises to 2023, as revealed by BBC news today on November 22nd, 2021. The implementation of end-to-end encryption in Meta’s (then Facebook) apps announced by Zuckerberg in 2019, would mean that this step will, “shield the majority of abusers from detection”, according to the BBC report.
Facebook Group is Now Called Meta
The social media and networking giant previously known as Facebook was constantly in chaos, with a steady flow of privacy and data breach issues in tow. As a result, cases concerning Facebook’s abuse of power have been circulating in the courts. Last month, in a swift attempt to restart the tainted brand image of Facebook, the corporation was renamed to ‘Meta.’ A completely new direction that includes a ‘metaverse‘, as well as Zuckerberg’s promises of responsible business operations and the removal of facial recognition from the platform are key parts of this refreshment.
Meta’s End-to-End Encryption Delays
Meta’s platform-wide incorporation of end-to-end encryption on its apps was supposed to be realized in 2022. However, according to Meta’s global head of safety Antigone Davis, the delay until 2023 is because of the need to “get this right” — meaning adjusting the balance of their, “three-pronged approach” as noted by Davis’ comment in The Telegraph. This approach aims to; prevent harm with ‘proactive detection technology‘ that detects suspicious activity and accounts, instate controls like ‘filters’ that stop harmful messages especially for younger users, encourage users to report harmful activity on the apps, as well as include features like app-tips.
The NSPCC’s Recent Operations
According to the BBC’s report, Andy Burrows, the head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) stated that, “They should only go ahead with these measures when they can demonstrate they have the technology in place that will ensure children will be at no greater risk of abuse.” Furthermore, Burrows confirmed that an 18-month coalition led by the NSPCC and 130 child protection organizations, “raised the alarm over the danger of end-to-end encryption.” This will push Meta to prove their seriousness in the matter.
A Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC sent to 46 police forces across Scotland, England and Wales revealed that 52% of the 9,470 instances of child offenses and abuse images were detected on, “Facebook-owned apps” Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp (although WhatsApp is already encrypted.) Platform-wide end-to-end encryption promises to vastly improve the ethics and morals surrounding social media, however, it will make it more difficult for law enforcement and even Meta themselves to act on online child endangerment. Full end-to-end encryption across the apps means that, in the event of online child endangerment, physical access to an unlocked device is the only way to locate evidence of any offenses.
Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary had stated earlier this year that encryption would complicate the pursuit of online criminal activity, including child abuse.