Technologies that support online safety are developing at a rapid pace, giving companies increasingly sophisticated capabilities to detect and address harmful content or behaviour.
We asked four industry leaders to help us look into the future, and to predict how safety tech might continue to evolve. Spanning key topics, including: digital resilience, decentralisation, data availability, and increased adoption, our discussions highlighted the potential for safety technologies to continue to adapt and grow, ensuring they are prepared for future risks, and how we use the internet.
Vicki Shotbolt, Founder and CEO, Parent Zone
“Safety tech 1.0 focuses on filtering, blocking and controlling what feels like a scary place to allow children to explore. What I’m really interested in is thinking about how we, as an industry, move beyond this and start to think about safety tech as a facilitator of children’s exploration.”
Adam Hadley, Founder and Director, Tech Against Terrorism
“Over the next five years two opposing pressures will shape the continued development of the internet: a drive for privacy from the public and increased pressure from governments for tech companies to police content on their behalf. This dynamic will likely result in increased demand for end-to-end-encryption (E2EE) technologies by the public and increased adoption of decentralised tech - the so-called “DWeb”.
“Violent extremists are likely to exploit emerging technologies and in some cases develop their own platforms to evade content moderation. Just as the safety tech community figures out how to deal with criminal content on conventional platforms, the threat is likely to move to platforms where content moderation is difficult if not impossible to do."
Adam highlights this is a cause for concern for the smallest platforms:
“Currently most terrorist content is shared on the smallest platforms that have the least capacity and capability to deal with this complex challenge. Without removing the causes of terrorist content - terrorists - content will inevitably migrate around the internet and move to smaller, emerging platforms.”
Adam stresses that tech solutions can only go so far to solve underlying problems in society:
“Unless we focus on the root causes of terrorist content online we will face a never-ending task of suppressing content. As a society we need to make some big decisions about just how far we want to go to securitise society: the future of the internet is at stake. With the emerging wave of global tech regulation we should remain alert to the risk of governments delegating too much responsibility to tech companies to deal with underlying problems in society. Done badly, the risk is that regulation will result in a patchwork of global laws that have irreversible unintended consequences.”
Ian Stevenson, CEO, Cyan Forensics
“This time last year, if we had been talking about an online safety tech industry, you would have got an awful lot of blank looks. Now there are a lot of people in the UK who will know what we are talking about and that is starting to spread internationally.”
“This raises concerns as to why there are not standards to safeguard the use of technology, as well as government legislation.”
Tom Drew OBE, Head of Counter Terrorism, Faculty.AI
“AI is becoming a bigger part of safety tech innovation. However, before the industry can reach a point where AI is more universally assisting in flagging and removing online harms, there is a need for large quantities of quality data to be available”
However, the challenge with many types of online harm, and child grooming specifically, is a lack of enough consistently labelled data on which to build AI models. This is something to which we have to collectively find solutions: breaking down barriers to sharing existing datasets and thinking imaginatively - but ethically - about the generation of synthetic datasets where sufficient quantities of harm data does not exist.”
What are your thoughts on the future of safety tech? Sign up to attend our event Safety Tech Innovation Challenges: the next steps on 25 February.