Safeguarding children in end-to-end encrypted networks: A preventative approach

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safeguarding children in E2E encrypted networks

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, the proliferation of end-to-end (E2E) encrypted networks has brought both convenience and challenges. E2E encryption ensures secure communication, and is an important tool for the protection of private communication. However, it poses significant obstacles for law enforcement and centralised moderation mechanisms when it comes to protecting vulnerable users, especially children.

As businesses grapple with the complexities of online safety, there is a growing need for proactive measures to ensure the well-being of young users within these encrypted networks.

One proposed solution, ‘Client Side Scanning (CSS)’, introduced initially by Apple, has been a controversial proposition which generated a lot of pushback from privacy advocates.  Privately SA has worked to develop novel approaches using edgeAI with simple, intelligent nudge techniques focused on prevention, that can be used to protect children without extending surveillance capabilities of platforms, device/OS manufacturers or other third parties.

The challenge with E2E encrypted networks

End-to-end encrypted networks are designed to provide secure and private communication, ensuring that only the sender and recipient can access the content of their messages. While this is a crucial development in digital privacy, it also presents challenges when it comes to monitoring and safeguarding children's online experiences:

Invisibility to Moderation: The very nature of E2E encryption means that messages and content are invisible to intermediaries, including content moderators. This presents a significant challenge in detecting and addressing inappropriate or harmful content.

Increased Vulnerability: Children are more susceptible to online risks due to their limited understanding of the digital world. Without monitoring or protective measures, they may encounter harmful content, online predators, or engage in unsafe behaviour.

Controversy around E2E encryption

The use of E2E encryption has sparked intense debates within the tech industry and among policymakers. These controversies primarily revolve around the clash between digital privacy and online safety:

Privacy Advocates: E2E encryption is championed by privacy advocates for its ability to protect users from surveillance, data breaches, and unauthorised access to personal information. They argue that any attempt to weaken encryption for safety measures could undermine these privacy benefits.

Online Safety Concerns: On the other side of the spectrum, advocates for online safety, particularly for children, are concerned about the challenges of monitoring and intervention in E2E networks. They emphasise the importance of protecting children from exposure to inappropriate content or potential dangers online.

Self generated sexual imagery

There is a growing issue around the sharing of self-generated child sexual abuse material (CSAM), including imagery, video and audio involving under 18s, particularly those that are vulnerable. IWF estimates that over 70% of CSAM imagery it dealt with in 2022 was self-generated.  In June 2021, Ofsted’s Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges found that sexual harassment has become ‘normalised’ for children, with boys sharing nude photos amongst themselves like a collection game, and around 9 in 10 girls reporting explicit pictures or videos being sent to them or their peers. Research by Internet Matters shows that vulnerable children are up to four times more likely to share a sexual image than their peers. Generative AI only adds to the tools available to children who might create such content.

The problem is that E2E encrypted platforms have not deployed any preventive technology that scans for such risqué content before it is uploaded. Once such content is uploaded, it is no longer accessible to law enforcement or platform moderation.

Prevention as a viable alternative

While the controversy around E2E encryption continues, there is an alternative approach that can proactively protect children without compromising the privacy of other users. Prevention, rather than intervention, is key. This approach includes:

Proactive Moderation: Implementing proactive content moderation tools that can identify and flag inappropriate images, text, or speech in real-time, ensuring that harmful content is not generated by children in the first place.

Encouraging Open Communication: Promoting open and honest conversations between parents, caregivers, and children regarding their online experiences and any concerns they may have.

Educational Guidance: Providing children with guidance on safe online behaviour, responsible use of social media, and recognizing potential risks.

How Privately's On-Device Safety Tools proactively protect children

Privately’s secure, on-device solutions are at the forefront of proactive online safety tools that can effectively protect children in E2E networks:

Image, Text, and Speech Moderation: Privately's tools use advanced AI and machine learning algorithms to identify inappropriate content in real-time, on-device, helping to ensure children do not create and share harmful material. This proactive approach prevents the need for retrospective moderation. Our ON_DEVICE CSAM detection SDK can flag an image containing nudity and children at the moment such content is being created. Apps and game developers can deploy this SDK to proactively warn children about sharing such imagery.

Guidance and Prompts: Privately's platform offers on-device, real-time guidance and prompts to encourage safe online behaviour among children. This includes reminders about not sharing personal information, recognizing potential risks, and fostering a respectful online environment.

Real-Time Alerts: Parents and caregivers can be notified of potential issues or concerning behaviours via a parent portal, allowing for intervention and discussion when necessary.

Reporting and Feedback Mechanisms: Privately provides reporting and feedback mechanisms for users, allowing children to report any concerns or issues they encounter while using E2E networks.

End-to-end encrypted networks provide privacy benefits that are indispensable in today's digital landscape. However, when it comes to protecting children, the challenges of monitoring and safeguarding their online experiences are evident. A proactive approach is essential, focusing on prevention through educational guidance, real-time moderation, and open communication.

Privately's online child safety tools offer a comprehensive solution to these challenges. By implementing image, text, and speech moderation and providing guidance and prompts all on-device, Privately ensures that children can navigate E2E networks safely, without compromising their privacy.

As the debate surrounding E2E encryption continues, businesses and parents alike can rely on these proactive tools to protect children and foster a secure online environment.

Learn more about Privately's online child safety tools here

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