More than 1,000 online child sex crimes were recorded by the police in the North East and Cumbria in the last 12 months.
Data compiled by children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that police recorded 1,010 online child sex crimes in the last 12 months where the method of communication was known, with 57 per cent of the offences involving Facebook-owned apps.
The NSPCC is now urging Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to strengthen the Online Safety Bill to decisively tackle abuse in private messaging.
Last month, the Office for National Statistics revealed children are contacted via direct message in nearly three-quarters of cases when they are approached by someone they don’t know online.
Andy Burrows, NSPCC head of child safety online policy, said: “Facebook is willingly turning back the clock on children’s safety by pushing ahead with end-to-end encryption despite repeated warnings that their apps will facilitate more serious abuse more often.
“This underlines exactly why Oliver Dowden must introduce a truly landmark Online Safety Bill that makes sure child protection is no longer a choice for tech firms and resets industry standards in favour of children.
“If legislation is going to deliver meaningful change it needs to be strengthened to decisively tackle abuse in private messaging, one of the biggest threats to children online.”
The NSPCC are calling on the Government to:
- Shift the onus to tech firms to show they are identifying and mitigating risks on products before they roll them out. The current onus is for Ofcom to prove risk, rather than companies to show they are taking steps to protect children. But they won’t be able to do this with end-to-end encryption in place because the majority of child abuse reports will disappear, creating a catch 22 for the regulator.
- Give Ofcom the power to force tech firms to act before harm has happened rather than after. Under the current plans, the regulator needs to demonstrate persistent and prevalent child abuse before it can force platforms to act. But the thrust of the legislation should be to catch harm at the earliest stage to prevent it.
- Make Ofcom consider the interplay of risky design features to see if it’s likely to exacerbate risk. End-to-end encryption is likely to present particularly severe risks if it can be exploited by abusers in conjunction with other high-risk design choices, for example algorithmic friend suggestions and livestreaming functionality. This is why the NSPCC is particularly concerned about the proposals to introduce end-to-end encryption on Facebook.