Everyone’s life is affected by COVID-19 in some ways. Whether it’s schools, colleges, offices, shops, etc., everything seems to have gone under hibernation. Because of this, online activities have seen a dramatic increase in their numbers. Work from home, online classes, cloud business management, plenty of ways were discovered to keep this world moving. But one important thing during this pandemic time is to keep children safe from online cyber-attacks. If we talk numbers, the following data will help you to understand better:
- According to UNESCO, 69.3% of learners were affected by school closures due to COVID-19 in 158 countries.
- 60% of children were attacked by cyber-attacks like gaming disorder, reputation risk, cyberbullying, online sexual behavior, fake news, etc. in 30+ countries.
- 1 billion children have to shift to online classes to complete their syllabus globally.
- In 2019 before the pandemic, there were 66 million Internet users in India aged between 5-11 years. As the coronavirus is going on right now, you can imagine where this number might have gone to.
- In a statement released by U.K. charity Internet Watch Foundation on May 20th, it mentioned that there had been 8.8 million attempts to access videos and images of kids suffering sexual abuse during the lockdown period of the country.
Over the last few years, cyberbullying has become a trend as the complaints are rising dramatically. And the personals that are severely affected by this dilemma are 5-16 years old children. To tackle this issue, several organizations have come together so that they can protect the younger generation from such heinous activities.
What is the Technology Coalition?
Technology Coalition was established 15 years ago between 2005-2006 that comprised major companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. The aim is to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation of children on the internet. They work together with several non-profit children’s welfare organizations like UNICEF and provide funding to educate tech platforms regarding child safety tools.
We witnessed several changes since 2006. Right now, Technology Coalition supports companies of all sizes to support child safety processes and protocols. Together, they are working to tackle online child safety risks via best-coordinated efforts, practices, and mentorship. The idea is to improve the detection and reporting of sexual abuse content, imagery, and other exploitative content, which is putting children at risk. In the last 10 years, member companies have developed technologies to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). The data is listed below:
- PhotoDNA, developed by Dartmouth and Microsoft is being used by organizations all over the world to detect, disrupt, and report child sexual exploitation images. The number has already crossed the billions mark.
- An open-source and photo-and video-matching technology by Facebook helps enterprises in keeping their services safe and practice hash-sharing systems for communicating, which makes their systems more powerful.
- Google’s Content Safety API improves the NGOs and other tech companies’ capabilities to detect CSEA content at a larger scale.
Technology has become more advanced compared to 2006. Now there’s a mobile and online video streaming platform also. Additionally, internet users in 2020 increased up to 4.5 million, which added a new challenge to keep the internet safe for everyone. The technological tools for reporting and detecting CSEA content are now more sophisticated, along with the forms of abuse that we need to prevent and eradicate.
To address the new challenges, the Technology Coalition conducted an in-depth consultation with 40+ experts regarding CSEA content around the globe. As a result, they came up with a plan called “Project Protect.” Recently, Twitter also backed “Five-Fold Plan: Project Protect” to fight against child sexual abuse and exploitative content that contaminates our internet. With this, the Technology Coalition aims to:
- Build advanced technological tools to prevent and work against CSEA by establishing a multi-million dollar Research and Innovation Fund.
- Share best practices and develop actions by creating an annual CSEA Experts Forum that consists of industry, civil society, and government.
- Reinforce the cross-industry approach for combat against CSEA, creating membership models, placing structure correctly, and procure more staff to support the long-term objectives of the Technology Coalition. It will be done by executing the Strategic “Five Pillar” plan.
- Publish an Annual Progress Report that will consist of the data related to industrial efforts to combat CSEA.
For the first time in history, members of different industries are coming together with the world-leading expert partners: the WePROTECT Global Alliance (WPGA) and The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (EVAC).
EVAC is the lead partner in the research arm, while ‘the WePROTECT Global Alliance’ will drive collective action and share good learning and practice.
Five Pillars of Project Protect
The main goal of Coalition is to be a resource for the technology industry and other organizations to put an end to CSEA. To do so, 5 pillars of action will be needed:
1. Innovation in Tech industry
- Invest in groundbreaking technologies that can support a cross-industry approach to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Determine priority of the necessary projects and plans for the Innovation Fund, and securing financial, technical, and operational resources associated with them. It will also include the distribution of funds.
2. Taking Collective Action
- A whole-of-society approach is necessary to tackle CSEA. Technology Coalition will execute collective actions and act as an industry reference group for WPGA. It will be the largest international alliance that focuses on ending online CSEA.
- An annual multi-stakeholder forum will be issued for all members to share their fight against CSEA. It will include – law enforcement, research centers, governments, and organizations supporting families and children like first responders, educators, hotlines, social workers, etc..
- Periodic convening and events to share knowledge, tools, assets, and take collective actions to disrupt CSEA.
3. Performing Independent Research
- Funding research to understand patterns of online CSEA so that a strategy could be developed to prevent, deter, and combat those issues.
- Working together with the Global Partnership to EVAC to facilitate the distribution of financial resources.
- Technology Coalition and its members will not supervise the research as it will be conducted independently. The research will consist of applied, longitudinal, and academic topics along with pilot studies like the efficacy of outreach, support and deterrence interventions, evolving threat landscape, how to build capacity, the resilience of content reviewers, ways to improve reports, etc..
- The research that consists of reliable and actionable insights will get utilized by practitioners both outside and within the industry.
4. Sharing Knowledge & Information
- Facilitate sharing of high-valued information, knowledge, and expertise across the industry to prevent online CSEA.
- Creating and expanding robust processes and systems for sharing threat-related information regarding predatory or exploitative behavior happening across online platforms to disrupt online CSEA.
- Developing rapid response mechanisms and protocols to share leads against abuse vectors.
- Building good practice models to provide mentorship to newer companies.
5. Holding Transparency & Accountability
- Providing greater consistency and accountability to every sector by sharing collective data via accurate reporting of online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse material to all member platforms.
- Developing a procedure to benchmark progress and actions taken. It will include designing a maturity model to train new companies to counter online CSEA, address international safety, and implementing privacy-by-design methods.
- Providing actionable information to identify CSEA and its content types, along with detection and reporting of evolving threat landscape.
- Working together with WPGA to put an end to online child bullying and exploitation by promoting good practice regarding the progress made by Coalition members.
The latest move from Technology Coalition is also welcomed by U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel. Addressing child sexual abuse as a sickening thing, she said “we must all work collaboratively to eradicate this crime. Myself and the Five Country partners have been clear that technology companies need to work quickly and go further to address the critical issues that could leave children vulnerable to online predators.”