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EU targets tech giants to prevent child sexual abuse

Just one detail in a photo posted online can help Yves Goethals and his team of digital detectives track down a victim of child sex abuse. This detail can be just a barcode on a trash can or a logo on a shopping bag that can help locate and identify the child as a victim.

According to Mr. Goethals – head of the Belgian police’s child abuse unit, this force has learned a lot of experience in Belgium, according to which, 90-95% of abuse cases, when the victim is identified, The culprit isn’t too far away. However, it takes weeks or even months to find the victim through image scanning for clues.

Child sexual abuse in cyberspace has spiked globally during the COVID-19 lockdown, prompting more and more voices to demand better regulations and reporting tools. to protect users, especially teenagers.

In response to the above call, on 11/5, the European Commission introduced a new bill to ensure technology companies must take more measures to detect and remove abusive images. child sex online. Under the law, tech giants, including Meta, Google and Apple, are required to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse content on their services. If companies fail to comply, they will be fined up to 6% of annual income or global revenue.

The European Commission says the proposal, similar to that in Australia, is intended to force tech giants to protect children, replacing a voluntary mechanism for detecting and reporting abuse.

To take effect, the new law needs to be approved by EU leaders and the European Parliament. This process is said to take up to 2 years.

The big tech companies admit more work is needed, but also want to make sure law-abiding people use their technologies and platforms.

Meanwhile, privacy activists fear detection technologies could open the door to mass surveillance. Therefore, the European authorities need to strike a balance.

As social media platforms have proliferated over the past two decades, so has material about child abuse shared online. According to statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), between 2010 and 2020, images of abuse posted on the Internet have increased by 9,000%. Servers located in European Union (EU) countries contain up to 62% of child sexual abuse content in 2021.

NCMEC said social networking platforms, including Facebook, recorded the largest number of non-offensive images. However, these images increasingly suggest better abuse tracking, thanks in part to artificial intelligence (AI).

AI-powered monitoring uses technology to filter hundreds of thousands of images and root out abusive content. Commonly used technologies are Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and the Watch Foundation’s (IWF) “digital fingerprint” technology, where human analysts evaluate images, or remove any content with child abuse content.

Child rights experts have emphasized the need to use technology to protect those at risk of abuse, while not intruding on privacy. Agreeing with the above view, Mr. Goethals affirmed that the authorities do not want to eliminate privacy and only want to use technology to identify perpetrators and victims.

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