More than half of online child sex crimes in a year occurred on Facebook-owned apps, NSPCC data shows, as more had to be done to combat abuse in private messages.
Facebook has already announced plans to end-to-end encrypt messaging for its apps, including Instagram and Messenger, as it does with another of its services – WhatsApp – to improve user privacy.
However, the children’s charity argued that these numbers, gathered through requests for freedom of information from the police force, show that the social media giant’s encryption plans put children at higher risk, accusing them of “keeping the watch up for safety.” to turn back the children ”.
The NSPCC said the data received showed that between October 2019 and September 2020, when the communication platform was known, 9,477 cases of sexual or indecent image crimes against children were recorded by the police, with 52% taking place on Facebook-owned apps.
The numbers showed that Instagram was used more than any other Facebook platform – more than a third of all cases before Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp collected data from 35 police forces in England, Wales and the Channel Islands.
The NSPCC argued that if Facebook continued its encryption plans if new security precautions were not taken, many of these crimes could not be reported in the future.
As a result, the charity has urged the government to bolster the powers of the upcoming online security bill to allow the proposed regulator Ofcom to take action.
It is argued that while end-to-end encryption offers a number of benefits, including improved privacy, it hinders the ability of platforms and law enforcement agencies to detect and disrupt child abuse.
“Facebook is willingly turning the clock back on child safety by advancing end-to-end encryption despite repeated warnings that their apps are more likely to allow more serious abuse,” said Andy Burrows, director of online child safety policy at NSPCC .
“If legislation is to bring about significant change, it must be strengthened to tackle the abuse of private messages, one of the greatest threats to children on the Internet, decisively.”
Last month, a senior official with the National Crime Agency said that Facebook’s encryption scheme “poses an existential threat to child protection.”
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End-to-end encryption is the practice of securing communications from everyone but the participants, including the platforms on which the conversation is taking place.
A company spokesperson for Facebook responded, “Child exploitation has no place on our platforms and we will continue to lead the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse.
“For example, last week we announced new security features on Instagram, including preventing adults under the age of 18 from sending messages that don’t follow them.
“End-to-end encryption is already the leading security technology used by many services to protect people, including children, from the hacking and theft of their private information. The full implementation of our messaging services is a long-term project and we are building strict security measures into our plans. “
A government spokesman said, “Our Online Safety Act will introduce world-class measures to protect children and ensure that pedophiles have no safe place to hide on social media.
“The burden is solely on the social media companies to prove that they are doing everything they can to keep children safe and that they cannot use encryption as an excuse.”
“End-to-end encryption risks that are blinding both social media companies and law enforcement agencies to these horrific crimes, and technology companies must put public safety at the center of their system design or face hefty fines.”