Discussing the online world of child exploitation with GEN

25 October, 2022

By Matt Burns and David Ranner

Discussing the online world of child exploitation with GEN

We were recently lucky enough to be invited onto the debut episode of Global Emancipation Network’s Finding Freedom podcast, aimed at empowering all stakeholders to learn about, discuss, and disrupt global human trafficking.  

In the podcast, we talked about online child sexual exploitation in 2022 and beyond, the current challenges those fighting back are facing, as well as the importance of continuous global efforts.  

Below, we’ve condensed some of the podcast’s key talking points to provide an informative and at-a-glance snapshot of our full participation. Read on to learn more.  

How has the threat of online CSAM evolved?  

The threat of online CSAM is constantly evolving, and we’re continuously seeing new tech being manipulated by those interested in exploiting children.  

It’s becoming easier than ever to create, share, or access online media from almost any location, and that’s led to a rise in a more coerced form of abuse. A common form of this may involve manipulated and exploited children live-streaming from their bedroom and committing acts on camera, causing emotional and psychological trauma. 

However, alongside this rise in cases, we’re also seeing more forms of intervention being developed. Education is always important, but this intervention typically focuses on the victim and not the perpetrators. 

We’re seeing some great intervention technology from developers like SafeToNet that can automatically detect explicit media and intervene in real time. There are also a range of other interventions being developed by the technology platforms themselves. Some of these interventions are still in their early days, but we believe they hold significant potential.

How has CameraForensics been navigating rising challenges?

In our work, we encounter a wide range of challenges that we have to navigate, both in prevention and detection. Some of these challenges include navigating legislation, always performing our work ethically, as well as crawling increasingly vast amounts of data.   

An ongoing issue concerning online child sexual exploitation revolves around liability and the need for further legislation. 

We believe that the responsibility of these platforms is to prioritise the welfare, privacy, safety, and security of those on their site. However, if people are being abused on their platforms and aren’t being safeguarded, then these responsibilities are proving to be fickle. There are a lot of expectations on platforms to self-regulate, but mounting discussions are considering imposing legislation to make this responsibility legally enforceable.  

For added complexity, this legislation may have to find a solution for cross-border site migration. Currently in international cases, if a site is found legally harmful in one region, it’ll just migrate to another region, so developing a manner to quickly track and trace these sites is pivotal.  

Ethically crawling sites 

Due to the nature of the work that we do at CameraForensics, we have to be extremely careful about how our crawlers index data. What’s more, we want to make sure that any data that we collect is done so as ethically as possible. We have to say what is our legitimate interest. For us, it’s protecting children, which enables us to collect data only for specific purposes.  

This legitimate interest is vital. It ensures that we’re checking how appropriate our processes are, as well as how data privacy rights are affected. For law enforcement, there are a range of additional requirements that force investigators to justify why they’re making searches.  

Crawling on the dark web vs the open web 

A common misconception is that illegal sexual exploitation, and other activity, only happens on the dark web. However, this use isn’t true. A large volume of activity also occurs on the open web – activity which law enforcement can use to further their investigations.  

As we don’t knowingly fetch or scrape illegal material, and always aim to make the investigative process as streamlined as possible, we try and stay on the open web for most of our general indexing purposes.  

Indexing large volumes of data 

Another significant problem we encounter is the sheer volume of data. For crawlers, and investigators, this can easily become an avalanche of work. We’re always looking for more ways to identify material efficiently and rapidly. 

A large portion of data is created by the offenders themselves, and it’s sourcing and indexing this information that is our highest priority. By sharing our data with formal counter networks such as Interpol, and other collaborative networks sharing techniques, intelligence, and expertise, it takes a network to defeat a network; together we can truly make a difference.  

The future of CameraForensics and the importance of partnerships 

At CameraForensics, we get excited about the possible state of this issue ten years from now. We joke that ten years from now we want to have worked our way out of this job, but the sympathy behind it is serious. We believe that we can solve this problem to the point where our role no longer needs to exist, but this can only happen if online partners work together to sort and intercept this issue at several intervention points.  

We’ve built a strong network of like-minded organisations worldwide, from NGOs to Big Tech corporations. With these partnerships in place, we can more effectively communicate and deploy a response, as well as develop intuitive tools to continue fighting back. 

The reality is, that while it may seem that online exploitative crime is increasing, there are always great collaborative projects, and tools, that continue to encourage the counter-CSAM landscape.  

Proud of our partnership with GEN 

We’re proud to work with organisations like GEN to shine a light on current issues such as human trafficking, modern slavery, and child sexual exploitation that are taking place online. We are incredibly proud to be a part of their debut podcast, and encourage our community to follow it to stay informed with the latest episodes and releases.

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