A global coalition of more than 100 sexual abuse survivors, families and child safety experts have demanded tech companies act now to make sure their platforms are safe for children.
Published by the NSPCC, one of our members in the United Kingdom, the letter to tech bosses has been spearheaded by a survivor who was sexually abused via encrypted messaging app WhatsApp as a 13-year-old and is signed by 43 survivors of online child sexual abuse and 61 global child safety organizations and academics.
It urges companies to engage with survivors to assess the child safety risks of new and current products, including end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
The letter has been sent to executives at tech platforms including Mark Zuckerberg at Meta, Evan Spiegel at Snap, Meredith Whittaker at Signal and Tim Cook at Apple.
Child Helpline International has added its name as a signatory to this letter. Other signatories include Phoenix 11, a collective of survivors whose child sexual abuse was recorded and distributed online, and survivors who work directly with the NSPCC in the UK as online safety campaigners, as well as organizations including The Alliance to Counter Crime Online, Barnardo’s, The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Collective Shout, ECPAT International, Eurochild and The Network for Children’s Rights .
“As a 13-year-old, I deserved to be safe, and I deserved the right to express myself on the internet. As someone in my early twenties I deserve the right to privacy, the right to know that explicit images and videos of me as a child can’t continue to be shared.
“For myself and millions of other young people at risk of sexual violence online, the right to express ourselves online does not come with the right to be safe and the right to have privacy. It is time for you to take responsibility for upholding the rights and safety of your users.
The letter continues:
“The pursuit of end-to-end encryption without safeguards will mean offenders can contact, groom and abuse children behind closed doors. In the future, it will be a new technology that puts children at risk. We must not continue down this path.”
* not her real name
Countries across the globe are currently legislating to protect children from sexual abuse online, including in messaging apps and end-to-end encrypted services. Tackling online abuse needs to be a global effort and tech bosses should not wait for regulation to begin work to make their platforms safer. Companies must accept upcoming legislation and begin work to ensure their products protect the safety and privacy rights of all users, including child sexual abuse victims and those at risk of grooming.
The letter, signed by representatives from 24 countries, sets out three key recommendations that technology companies could implement now to show their commitment to keeping all children safe online, including:
- Seeking out the perspectives of users whose rights and safety have been eroded by their products
- Committing to not pursuing products or services that harm users unless there are stringent safeguards, informed by the perspectives of survivors, in place first. This includes the rollout of end-to-end encryption
- Producing and publishing impact assessments which identify who will be adversely impacted by product decisions and what mitigations are in place to uphold their rights and safety.