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Safety Tech Challenge Fund Briefing Event

On September 14th, HMG and PUBLIC held a supplier briefing event disclosing details about the policy background surrounding the fund and its technical principles, and shared useful information and tips on how to apply.

The briefing was delivered by representatives from DCMS, Home Office, GCHQ and PUBLIC and was opened by Graham Francis, Senior Policy Lead at DCMS, who set out the fund’s mission:
“The Safety Tech Challenge Fund is looking at the issue of end to end encryption that is eroding a number of existing online safety methodologies. We are keen to hear from innovative solutions that can enable more effective detection and/or prevention of sexually explicit images or videos of children, considering the opportunities to respond at different levels of the technical stack. Importantly, user privacy should be baked into every proposed approach.”
HMG will fund up to 5 collaborative projects, up to £85,000 each, to prototype and evaluate innovative technical approaches to detect the sharing of sexually explicit images or videos of children within an E2EE environment.
 
The fund was announced at the G7 summit by the Home Secretary, calling on international partners to take steps to tackle child sexual abuse online. Piers Harrison, Head of Industry Engagement at Home Office, laid out the policy context surrounding the fund: “The intent of this challenge fund is to demonstrate what is technically possible - we believe there are already feasible solutions that would improve E2EE companies’ own safety measures to identify and report child sexual abuse, but some companies have been reluctant to adopt them. We are keen to work with international partners and NGOs to encourage tech companies to innovate in this area”.
The Fund is technology agnostic to incentivise a diverse range of innovative approaches to tackling the challenge area. A number of safety approaches will be considered: from prevention of online abuse, to detection (either with or without content), to content review and moderation, to reporting online harms to relevant authorities. 
“We feel strongly that solutions with no access to content are likely to be significantly less effective. We expect this fund to focus on how child sexual abuse can be detected through content – for example using hashing or other image matching technology.  Importantly, the scope is limited to company safety processes, and will not cover tools and data for law enforcement” continued Harrison. 
As explained by a representative from GCHQ “a set of technical principles have been developed for this challenge to ensure that all solutions adhere to a baseline level of standards. These will not prevent some great ideas and innovations from addressing this challenge.”

Core technical principles as well as essential and desirable features can be found in the supplier guidelines here. The Fund is not prescriptive about the type of technology, as long as the suppliers align with the technical principles and the other eligibility criteria. 
Mark Lazar, Director of Programme at PUBLIC, highlighted the importance of collaboration: “Given the multifaceted nature of the problem area, it is unlikely that a single solution will solve this problem end to end, therefore we strongly encourage collaborations between suppliers, whether they be safety tech companies, demand side partners, academic institutions, NGOs, companies from tangential sectors, and other relevant actors.” 
Applying in a collaborative partnership is not a requirement, but as mentioned in the supplier guidelines, proposals will have a higher chance of success if they do apply as a collaborative partnership.
Applications are open until October 6th at noon (UK time). Shortlisted organisations will be invited to an interview in early/mid October, which will be followed by final due diligence processes. 
 
Selected organisations will enter a 5 month delivery phase from early November. During this phase, suppliers will spend time with PUBLIC, relevant government stakeholders, and independent evaluators to build a successful prototype. Suppliers will have access to set office hours with government stakeholders, technology and policy experts and will take part in Show & Tell days with policy officials across government.
 
The funds will be distributed in 3 tranches: at the beginning, middle and end of the project. 
The project team will assess suppliers’ eligibility to receive the next round of funding based on weekly and monthly progress reports, including a project update, a measurement of impact, and compliance factors (such as any changes to the project, or any media attention).
Projects will be assessed against key success criteria by an independent evaluator in March 2022, at the end of the delivery phase. 
How to apply
You can find all resources on the Safety Tech Challenge Fund web page.
Supplier guidelines - Central document with key information about the Fund,including problem statement, requirements and selection criteria.

Application portal
- Portal to submit an application to the Fund. Note: Please read the About page before starting your application and draft answers in a separate word doc
Contact form - Sign up to receive news & updates on the Fund
Query form - If you have any questions please submit them via this form.  Note: We will be sharing the questions and answers anonymously on our Supplier guidelines as to ensure transparency throughout the entire process. Please check the supplier guidelines document for new answers.
Partnering
HMG and PUBLIC are able to facilitate partnerships between organisations that are willing to apply to the fund, but don’t have a consortium in place. If you are applying to the fund and looking for potential partnerships please reach out to PUBLIC team member Chiara at chiara@public.io

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