The Internet Watch Foundation is “outraged” at Meta’s “catastrophic” decision to roll out end-to-end encryption, which will allow illegal and harmful content to spread undetected on its platforms.
Today (December 7), Meta announced it is beginning to roll out end-to-end encryption on its platforms, beginning with Facebook Messenger.
Read our Journalist's Briefing on end-to-end encryption.
End-to-end encryption will mean Meta’s current apparatus for detecting known child sexual abuse imagery will be rendered useless, meaning the company will be unable to spot criminal material being spread through its channels.
Introducing this technology without first putting in place a solution to prevent this abuse is, in effect, providing a safe space for criminals to spread abuse imagery with impunity.
Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “We are outraged Meta has chosen to prioritise the privacy of paedophiles over the safety of our children. We strongly urge other platforms not to follow this dreadful example.
“This catastrophic decision to encrypt messaging services, without demonstrating how protection for children won’t be weakened, will lead to at least 21 million reports of child sexual abuse going undetected. Meta is effectively rolling out the welcome mat for paedophiles.
“The company has a strong track record in detecting large amounts of child sexual abuse material before it appears on its platforms. We urge Meta to continue this vital protection. We know it already take steps to prevent malware within WhatsApp, an end-to-end encrypted messaging environment, so why can’t it use the same technology to do the same for child sexual abuse?
“What will Meta’s bosses say to children who have suffered sexual abuse, whose trauma will be compounded by their decision not to preserve their privacy? How will they justify turning a blind eye to this illegal and harmful content being spread via their platforms?
“It is now up to Ofcom to show its teeth and demonstrate it is serious about protecting the privacy and safety of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
There is strong evidence End-to-end encrypted apps are also favoured by criminals to contact, groom, and abuse children in the first place.
This week, Finnish child protection agency Suojellaan Lapsia (Protect Children) published a report warning encrypted services and messaging apps are being used to contact children and view child sexual abuse material.
According to the report, perpetrators who view child sexual abuse imagery are likely to seek direct contact with a child afterwards.
The report says 37% of respondents to their survey said that they have sought contact with a child, most of them using platforms on the open web to do so. The report says 25% of respondents say that they have sought contact with a child via an encrypted messaging app.