Protecting your platform and users from child sexual abuse material: Where to start

An introduction to practical ways in which online businesses can use tech to guard their platforms from child sexual abuse material.

Every year, international authorities receive millions of child sexual abuse images and videos that have been posted online – a severe problem, which is growing in scale. This content can appear on any system, website or platform where users publish, share or store content.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective, simple and practical ways in which any company can get on the front foot in dealing with this abhorrent content on their systems, websites or platforms.

Many of the core principles involved in implementing protection for children are set out in several excellent recent publications:

  • guide to keeping children safe on your online platform, which includes specific information on protecting users on your platform from sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the Government’s interim code of practice on Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse;
  • The international Voluntary Principles to Counter Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse; 
  • An implementation guide for companies considering supporting the Voluntary Principles, developed by six tech company members of WeProtect Global Alliance.

As the guidance makes clear, the use of automated tools to detect and address instances of abuse should be part of the solution, but also important is access to organisations that are authorised to make those manual, ‘eyes-on’ checks to classify and hash illegal abuse content in the first place. Getting advice on the use and integration of these tools is straightforward and how to collaborate with partners too. 

The Internet Watch Foundation: A first port of call

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a UK-based not-for-profit NGO working globally to help the tech industry disrupt, find, block, remove and report illegal images of child sexual abuse material online. 

The IWF provides three types of service to tech companies:

  1. Blocking known illegal imagery. When IWF analysts discover new illegal content, or it is reported to them, they give this content a unique digital fingerprint – or ‘hash’. IWF members can use the organisation’s Hash List to prevent copies of these images being uploaded to their own network so they can block them and prevent copies from being uploaded in the future.
  2. Identifying harmful websites. Sometimes content can be removed in minutes. Other times, it can take longer. The IWF’s URL list of web pages (and NPI – Non Photographic Image URL List) allows companies to proactively block the content until the criminal imagery can be removed. This prevents users from innocently stumbling across harmful content, and makes it harder for criminals to access illegal images and videos. The IWF URL list is dynamic, updated twice per day, and blocks at webpage level so there’s no danger of over-blocking. 
  3. Identifying harmful keywords. Online communities of child abusers have developed a coded language, which they use to search for illegal content using common words and phrases. The IWF maintains a keyword list of thousands of these phrases, which companies, including mainstream search engines, can use to scan for relevant words and limit any searches that could return illegal content.

The IWF’s Intelligrade grading technology makes it easier for agencies operating in other countries to take hashes from the UK and apply them seamlessly into their own systems, wiring up the different legal classifications around the world and allowing swift and appropriate action without the need for additional reassessment work.

Intelligrade video from the IWF

The IWF also runs a global network of 48 Reporting Portals and is the UK INHOPE Reporting Hotline and empowered to issue Notice to Takedown (NTDs) if illegal child sexual abuse is hosted anywhere in the UK. 

By joining the IWF, you can access these services and be connected to a global network that is working to create a safer internet and protect children. 

Join the Internet Watch Foundation

WeProtect Global Alliance: An international perspective

The WeProtect Global Alliance, an independent global organisation, brings together a community of experts dedicated to protecting children online. Its website contains a number of practical resources and frameworks designed to help organisations of all sizes keep children safe online.

WeProtect members have free use of a new discussion portal which contains expert guidance on how to share, collaborate and advocate for solutions to prevent child sexual abuse material and protect children from online harms. 

Find out more about the WeProtect Global Alliance.

The Online Safety Tech Industry Association

The Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA) is the industry body for UK Safety Tech organisations, and many of its members provide cutting-edge products and services that help companies and law enforcement agencies protect children online. 

If you are looking for specific capabilities, OSTIA is able to provide free advice on the market, and member companies to approach.

Find out more about OSTIA

The Safety Tech Innovation Network

The provider pages on our website allows you to filter companies based on their capability to detect illegal child sexual abuse material. 

The products and services offered by these companies can work at different levels of your technical stack to protect users. For example:

  • Cloudflare’s technology integrates with their Content Delivery Network; 
  • Netclean helps protect corporate IT systems; 
  • Crisp detects threat intelligence from the dark web;
  • enables client-side detection of nudity;
  • Cyan identifies harmful content in online safety and law enforcement environments; 
  • SafeToNet offers on-device protection for children in real time.

You can find further information on the companies’ websites.
Find Safety Tech providers that help block illegal content

Watch the recording from our workshop

Recording from the ‘Protecting your platform from child sexual abuse material: Where to start’ workshop on 28 October 2021 with the IWF, WeProtect Global Alliance and OSTIA

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