The U.K. government has backed Apple’s plan to scan user photos for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and is offering rewards of up to £85,000 ($117,600) to other technology firms who can develop new tools to keep children safe.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who this week announced the Safety Tech Challenge Fund, called on “Big Tech” to take responsibility for public safety and find ways to monitor online platforms protected by encryption.
21 million instances of child abuse
“It is utterly appalling to know that the sexual abuse of children is incited, organised, and celebrated online,” reads Patel’s article in The Telegraph. “It is devastating for those it hurts and happens on a vast and growing scale.”
Last year alone, global technology companies reported 21 million instances of child sexual abuse, Patel stated. “Much of this abuse occurs on everyday apps and platforms that you probably use for perfectly normal reasons.”
The U.K. government is already introducing new safety laws with the Online Safety Bill, which will hold online services accountable for protecting their users — and impose penalties on those that fail to do so.
There is “zero room for complacency,” Patel wrote, before calling on social media networks, online messaging platforms, and other tech firms to “put public safety before profits” and step up their protections.
’We are seeking technical solutions’
The U.K. government is seeking “technical solutions” to this problem, Patel added. “Recently Apple have taken the first step, announcing that they are seeking new ways to prevent horrific abuse on their service.”
“They need to see through that project,” she added, without mentioning that Apple’s plans are now on hold. “But that is just one solution, by one company, and won’t solve everything.”
So, the U.K. government is launching the Safety Tech Challenge Fund, which will award five organizations from around the world up to £85,000 each for developing “innovative technology to keep children safe in environments such as online messaging platforms with end-to-end encryption.”
Applications opened on Wednesday, and the deadline for the program is October 6, 2021. Proposed technologies will be evaluated by independent academic experts, Patel said.