Home / Tech / Child porn runs rampant on big tech platforms despite detection and prevention methods, according to New York Times investigation

Child porn runs rampant on big tech platforms despite detection and prevention methods, according to New York Times investigation

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  • A new investigation by The New York Times found that the internet’s largest tech platforms are failing to effectively shut down the giant portions of online child sexual abuse material.
  • Massive inconsistencies across tech companies and platforms in addressing the material leave gaping holes that pedophiles and criminals easily exploit.
  • The online population of abusive content is growing and can remain online undetected, and children are often blocked from getting photos and videos of their abuse taken down, even long after their abusers are caught. 
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A new investigation by The New York Times found that the internet’s largest tech platforms are failing to effectively shut down the giant portions of online child sexual abuse material found in search engines, social networks, and cloud storage.

The Times previously reported a record 45 million photos and videos were flagged last year after a widespread commitment by the tech industry to detect such material. However, massive inconsistencies across tech companies and platforms in addressing the material leave gaping holes that pedophiles and criminals, like traffickers, easily exploit.

With pedophiles meeting on various chat apps and sharing images on cloud storage, tech companies are struggling to effectively shut down the sharing of material across the board, meaning that the online population of abusive content is growing and can remain online undetected, and children are blocked from getting photos and videos of their abuse taken down.

Two sisters told the Times that 10 years after their father recorded abusing them and posted it online, they live in fear long after he went to jail as photos and videos of them were found in over 130 previous child sexual abuse investigations.

The Times reports that Amazon does not look for such imagery, Apple similarly doesn’t scan its cloud storage or its encrypted messaging app. Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft products “scan for illegal images, but only when someone shares them, not when they are uploaded.”

Facebook is ahead of other platforms, as the Times reports its thorough scans account “for over 90% of the imagery flagged by tech companies last year,” but it’s not using all available databases to detect the material and when Facebook Messenger is eventually be encrypted, detection will be impossible.

The Times used a program that searched Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo with three dozen terms related to child sexual abuse. The images it found were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Canadian Center for Child Protection, before being flagged to Microsoft.

The tech giant told the Times that it “uncovered a flaw in its scanning practices,” and would re-examine its process, but the Times program kept finding more, which a spokesman for Microsoft attributed to the nature of the problem being a “moving target.”

Federal prosecutors announced last month that they had dismantled what they called the world’s “largest dark web child porn marketplace,” which featured more than 200,000 videos showing sexual abuse of children, toddlers, and infants. The site operated on the dark web, a protective section of the internet that can only be accessed via a Tor browser.

Similar cases of law enforcement victories do result in arrests and the shuttering of horrific websites, but only seem to scratch the surface of the massive online pedophile population.

Criminal cases mentioned by the Times show that criminals often discuss in online forums and chats groups how to exploit vulnerabilities in search engines and other platforms, even studying cases in which people have been caught with explicit material and developing online manuals to avoid getting caught.

To report online child sexual abuse or find resources for those in need of help, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.

Read the Times’ full investigation report here »

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