Sexual abuse survivors and experts are demanding that major tech leaders take steps to ensure their services are safe for children.
- Letter urges companies to engage with victims to assess risks of tech products
A coalition of more than 100 sexual abuse survivors, families and child safety experts have written to the leaders of major tech platforms asking them to take urgent action to ensure their services are safe for children.
The letter was sent to executives including Mark Zuckerberg at Meta, Evan Spiegel at Snap, Meredith Whittaker at Signal and Tim Cook at Apple.
It urges companies to engage with survivors to assess child safety risks related to new and current products, including end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
Signatories from 24 countries include Phoenix 11, a collective of survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and broadcast online, and survivors who work directly with the NSPCC as online safety campaigners.
Signatory organizations include the Alliance to Counter Crime Online, Barnardo’s, Canadian Center for Child Protection, Collective Shout, ECPAT International, Eurochild and the Children’s Rights Network.
A letter has been sent to tech company bosses urging them to ensure their services are safe for children using their platforms. (Stock image)
A survivor named Frida, who was sexually assaulted via WhatsApp, said: “As a 13-year-old, I deserved to be safe and I deserved the right to express myself on the internet.
“As a twenty-something, I deserve the right to privacy, the right to know that explicit images and videos of me as a child cannot continue to be shared.
“For me and millions of other young people at risk of sexual violence online, the right to express themselves online is not accompanied by the right to safety and the right to privacy.
“It’s time for you to take responsibility for respecting the rights and security of your users. »
The letter added: “The pursuit of end-to-end encryption without guarantees will mean that offenders will be able to contact, groom and abuse children behind closed doors. In the future, it will be a new technology that will put children in danger. We must not continue down this path.
Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “We need a global effort to ensure young people like Frida have their security and privacy rights respected, including within encrypted messaging services from start to finish.
“It is crucial that lawmakers take advantage of the opportunities available to give children the protections they deserve online.
“In the meantime, tech companies must get ahead of the legislation and act now to make their products safe for all users who rely on their services, including children and victims of abuse.”
Signatories from 24 countries include Phoenix 11, a collective of survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and distributed online.
The letter comes as the UK’s Online Safety Bill is in its final stages in Parliament before being passed into law.
This week, Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan insisted that the long-awaited legislation had not watered down measures to curb encryption.
End-to-end encryption is a security measure that protects data and communications by scrambling them, meaning only the sender and recipient can read the data.
It is widely used to protect sensitive information, with Signal and fellow messaging service WhatsApp among its high-profile users.
Tech companies had said a provision in the online safety bill would give the regulator the power to try to force the broadcast of private messages over end-to-end encrypted communications services.
WhatsApp and other messaging services had warned they would consider pulling out of the UK rather than compromise people’s ability to communicate securely.
A statement by Digital Minister Lord Parkinson to the House of Lords in September was seen by some as confirmation that the government was withdrawing and changing its approach.
Ms Donelan insisted on Tuesday that nothing had changed in the bill, which she said contained a “safety net” that “may never have to be used”.
It is estimated that the bill could pass through all stages of Parliament by Tuesday, pending royal assent.