As noted in previous blogs the UK’s use of the internet continues to grow, so does online child abuse. The NSPCC reports that online child abuse crimes soared by 78% between 2017 - 2021. In 2020, 9,742 online child sex offences were recorded by 41 police forces. Due to the difficulties in capturing all incidents of online child abuse, the figures are in reality expected to be higher. Without action and intervention, this could be expected to increase further.

The Online Safety Bill creates a new legal framework for identifying and removing illegal and harmful content from online. One of the objectives of this legislation is to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse. The proposed legislation tackles the issue by regulating tech companies. While the Bill is in the final stages of passing through the Houses of Parliament, the Bill has suffered from delays.

There are organisations presently using technology to combat online child abuse. Two of these organisations are Natterhub and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). While both are different in their product, their similarity is that they are working to prevent online child abuse from the core.

Natterhub is an online safety platform that provides educational content for children. Their campaign #HaveTheConversation aims to encourage conversation about online safety both at home and at school. This is to equip primary-ages children with the ability to detect danger online and safely navigate the online world.

An abuser does not need to be physically present in online abuse. Natterhub reported that 50% of all 10–11-year-olds have a device in their room overnight. They state, “If we can facilitate timely and engaging conversations with children, at school and at home, this scenario should be entirely preventable.”

The IWF are using Intelligrade, a highly developed piece of software that enables their analysts to grade sexual abuse images and videos. Intelligrade creates a unique fingerprint against the images and videos. If they reappear online, the content can be identified and eliminated. This will go towards preventing the spread of the content.

An aim of Intelligrade is to create ‘a harmonised, world-compatible dataset’ of fingerprints to assist tech companies in being able to protect their customers and users against child abuse content being distributed on their platforms.

IWF state that one of the key benefits of Intelligrade is that the fingerprints generated are compatible with child sexual abuse laws in multiple jurisdictions including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Such technology may be able to be widely used by UK tech companies to assist in upholding their legal obligations which are proposed by the Online Safety Bill.

The use of technology is a double-edged sword. While it enables the spread of online child abuse, it can also be used positively to combat the same. Nattergrade and Intelligrade are both positive examples of this, where they are working to stamp out online child abuse from its origin and protect the victims of this abuse.