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WeProtect Conference – Part 1

Today, a new law is being introduced by David Cameron which will make the soliciting of child sexual abuse imagery illegal. The new law comes as a result of the WeProtect Conference held in May. Ben Reed, Head of Technology here at Mubaloo was invited to attend the conference and here is his story.

Theme 1: The sharing of child sexual abuse imagery (CSAI) online

Theme 2: Adults interacting with children online for sexual purposes

The keynote covered the problems in both of these themes. Whilst the subject matter was difficult to swallow, and some of the example content was not pleasant to listen to, it was clear there was a huge problem. What became abundantly clear is that we, as industry leaders, should be the ones to fix it. As it was put at the end of the keynote, technologists have helped to create this problem through our tools and services, so it is up to us to solve the problem.

After the keynote we were split into groups and locked away to discuss the problems and potential solutions for each theme. Day one was to be spent brainstorming and day two was to be spent honing a specific idea for the groups’ given theme, ours was theme two.

Much of the conversation in the group, and the conference in general, was very much web or desktop focussed. There was talk of chat rooms, instant messaging and social networks, but it very quickly became clear that mobile should be the area we focussed on in our group. Mobile is now the communication channel of choice for children and this presents a whole new set of problems when it comes to protecting children when they are online.

The key issues highlighted were:

  • A family PC is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Mobile devices mean that children now have internet access wherever they are and at any time.
  • The device (in most cases) is not just used on trusted WiFi networks. 3G/4G coverage is becoming much more widespread.
  • They are an “all in one” device capable of capturing and sending media anywhere almost instantly.

Comparing the use case to the enterprise

Much of our experience at Mubaloo is in the enterprise space, and when working in that space security and sensitivity of data is always paramount. When personal mobile devices began to be used by employees as a tool for work, the industry quickly responded in introducing solutions such as MAM and MDM, to control usage and to protect corporate data. A BYOD policy will be put into place, dictating what can and cannot be done on the device to protect the users and the organisations’ data.

The same cannot be said for protecting families and their devices and data. If a child is given a mobile phone (or laptop or tablet) they can use it anyway they like, straight out of the box, without restriction. Whilst there are some safeguards on mobile networks to prevent access to certain types of adult material, issues that arise generally come from predatory adults utilising popular services to find targets. This means that more needs to be done to find ways to protect young people on their mobile devices.

Brainstorming

In order to get our heads around the problems we were trying to solve, we had to think about each stage of interacting with a potentially dangerous stranger online. The predators could be profiled and put into 3 types:

  • Intimacy seekers – groomers, who are in it for the long term.
  • Adaptors – will profile the potential victim and adapt to their responses.
  • Hyper sexualised – very sexual from the outset and looking for instant gratification.

Our ideas

One way in which young people will be at risk is by being duped into sending a naked image to someone they perceive to trust. The perpetrator will then use this as a way to control the victim, or risk the image being sent to their friends and family. In order to protect the user, it’s important to try to stop that first image being sent. As a group, we saw this as the entry point to try to solve.

One possible solution was to encourage mobile operating system manufacturers to update the Human Interface Guidelines to implement a traffic light style system. The likelihood is that a perpetrator will try to entice a number of different victims, so it only takes one to raise a red light if they feel uncomfortable. This could also be utilised if a user falls prey to a predator. If they knew it was safe to raise the red flag without the fear of retribution, and that they would be safe, it could offer protection.

The use of an API would then be able to report abuse and act as a language analysis tool to monitor conversations, or users that have been identified as potentially dangerous. This would rely on a certain amount of education to users around their privacy and protections.

The internet and mobile services are both one of the greatest advancements of recent times, but also one of the biggest threats due to those who seek to exploit it and the people who use it.

Education

As expected from an event focused around child safety, educating internet users about how to protect themselves became one of the key theme during the second day. This is a case of educating all parties, from parents, teachers, caregivers and children themselves. Education has always been where internet security is concerned. Advertising campaign after advertising campaign has focused on educating users about protecting at risk groups on the Internet.

Many of the problems arise from parents who aren’t technical, or fail to keep up with the ways in which their children use technology and different services. Often, children’s knowledge will be ahead of their parents and they’ll be able to get round relatively rudimental safety systems. Added to this is the need to educate children about not trusting strangers they meet online.

With the number of forums, social channels and sites designed around specific interests, it’s easy for children to get talking to other people who appear to have similar interests. Many parents do not understand the risks that these technologies bring.

Tools

Alongside educating the parents, they need tools to support them in protecting their children online. MDM and MAM exist in the enterprise, but there is nothing aimed at families and the general public. Even if there was the tools would need to be much more user friendly if they are to be effective.

There may well be systems by home broadband providers and mobile networks to filter out content, but there is also a need for parents to be able to control which services children have access to. This is where a platform, that takes the principles of MDM and MAM, to help provide families with extra control.

Such a platform would need to be easy to manage and secure, with control managed from the parental device.

Conclusion

Education is clearly the first place to start with protecting children and empowering parents to look out for warning signs. Mobile has added a new dimension that many parents aren’t familiar with. Where families used to have a single computer in the house, now there are a variety of devices that all connect to the internet, with some children having game consoles, tablets, smartphones and access to a computer.

On these devices, they have access to social networks and social apps, forums and online games where users can interact with each other, video sharing sites built around communities and thousands of other possible channels for interactions.

In America, there is a drive by some to try to create a closed Internet. This is not the answer. The answer is in providing parents with the tools and education to help them protect their children. There is a careful balance that needs to be met, too much control will push children, specifically teenagers, to rebel and find their own ways.

Part 2 – What the new law means

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