Child exploitation has always been a grave concern. A lot of children are abused via the internet. Circulation of child pornography supports their exploitation and keeping a check on what is being circulated online is a crucial task, yet there are no steps have been taken by big and widely used companies like Microsoft and Apple. They must attempt to help these children to ensure their safety. A company so established must do something about it to maintain some integrity in the online world.
Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp have been accused of not doing enough to stop child exploitation content on their platforms. Despite knowing how worse an issue like this can get, they aren’t taking enough measures to ensure the serenity of a parent’s heart. Apple and Microsoft do not proactively screen for child abuse material in their storage services, iCloud and OneDrive. This has been confirmed by the e-Safety Commissioner (an office set up to protect internet users). They sent some legal demands for information to some of the world’s biggest firms for confirmation.
Even the two firms blatantly accepted that the statements are true. That they did not use any technology to spot live-streaming of child sexual abuse on video services like Skype and Microsoft Teams, owned by Microsoft, and FaceTime, owned by Apple. Choosing to deliberately blind oneself to child sexual abuse is the most aggravating step that one of the richest companies could take. It is very clear that the two companies do not get how bizarre the consequences of such irresponsibility could be. Moving towards technological advancement would not matter if it is not safe for someone to use it.
Response by the companies
A Microsoft spokesperson said the company was committed to combating the proliferation of abuse material but “as threats to children’s safety continue to evolve and bad actors become more sophisticated in their tactics, we continue to challenge ourselves to adapt our response”. Apple was not immediately available for comment. Besides being irresponsible, Apple is being very ignorant of the seriousness of this situation. Is this a method that they are adopting to brush the topic under the carpet? Is this how a reputed firm supposed to react to such an extreme situation?
The least that these companies could do was detect formerly confirmed child abuse material but they chose not to do that either. In the contemporary world, all of us are taking measures to protect little children and these companies seem very unconcerned about such topics. A detection product developed by Microsoft is used by law enforcement agencies but Microsoft won’t use it to protect those children whose videos are being circulated on their applications and devices.
The failure of both firms to detect live-streamed abuse amounted to “some of the biggest and richest technology companies in the world turning a blind eye and failing to take appropriate steps to protect the most vulnerable from the most predatory”, she added.
In the modern world, the Internet is being used as a vehicle for sex offenders to exploit children. There’s the production of child abuse images, sharing them, and grooming or procuring child victims online. Now, it does not matter how these crimes are perpetrated as it similarly impacts children whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially. It leaves them humiliated, embarrassed, and sometimes even suicidal. Think about how devastating it could be for a little child to see herself or himself in such a situation. The velocity at which child abuse images can be disseminated, collected, and viewed in the indelible context of the Internet is incalculable.
How we talk about this problem, and how we react to it is an important point to discuss. It influences how we respond to a problem. Henceforth, how problems are framed and known determines the interventions. So, how it is viewed is something that must be focused upon. Most content which is circulated online is very violent and humiliating. Children who are used in the production of such content experience psychological distress and emotional trauma. It is obvious that they would experience this because they are aware of the permanence of the content.
It is well known that once any content is posted online, it can’t be completely removed. If it is removed from that particular site, it does not mean that the same content cannot be found on another. Even if that is ensured, it cannot be ensured if it is not on other devices. Every time this content is viewed by someone, the child is re-victimized. What did that child ever do to deserve such treatment? This is something that would change the child and her or his life permanently. It would be way too difficult for her or him to even step out of their homes.
A history of childhood sexual abuse has been associated with fear, anxiety, depression, insomnia, body-related disorders, self-destructive behavior, headaches, aggression, anger, hostility, poor self-esteem, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and sexual maladjustment. When we take up the case of such victims, they experience a high level of discrepancy between their ideal self and real self. In such a situation, the person feels that they are not functioning at their potential. It makes them feel as if they aren’t giving their best. Victims of child sexual abuse are also at a higher risk of psychiatric morbidity and prolonged depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorders are also very common among the victims.
Not only does this affect a child’s mental health but also their education. According to a study, survivors of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to drop out of college. Fifty percent of students who were sexually abused as children, and 65% of students both physically and sexually abused had dropped out before graduation, significantly more than non-abused students. Henceforth, survivors of child exploitation are less likely to succeed in the academic arena. Depression has also been shown to be associated with impaired immune functioning. Thus, childhood abuse seems to influence stress responses, immunity, and both mental and physical health.
Steps to be taken
First of all, the storage services of Apple and Microsoft should regularly screen child abuse content. They should keep an eye on what is being circulated online and discard or delete any material that is considered to cause harm to any child. Along with that, the sites where such content is being shared and the accounts sharing such content must be deleted. Strict action must also be taken against such sites and accounts. To ensure the safety of children, parent supervision shall be facilitated.
Microsoft should start using the detection product developed by them. As mentioned above, there will not be any point in dedicating resources towards advancement if they are not safe for someone to use. Therefore, it is about time that companies start dedicating their resources to developing and deploying policies, tools, and processes in the fight to protect children online and to detect, disrupt and identify offenders. They must understand the level and nature of the online child sexual exploitation and abuse threat and areas of high risk on its platform. They must also understand the severity of this situation and what kind of impact it could have on someone’s life.
It is about time that companies respond to the evolving threat and changing societal and offending behaviors to reduce risks for users. Companies shall seek to thwart known child sexual abuse material from being made accessible to users or reachable on their platforms and services, take appropriate action under their terms of service, and report to the authorities concerned. This is a method of preventing of continued circulation of such materials and avoids further re-victimizing the children depicted. Although such content cannot be removed permanently from everywhere, the least that the firms could do is reduce the content disseminated online.
Companies should seek to identify and combat advertising, recruiting, soliciting, or procuring a child for sexual exploitation or abuse, or organizing to do so, take appropriate action under their terms of service, and report to appropriate authorities. . These types of actions are often undertaken by offenders seeking to obtain greater access to a child with the intent of committing more serious online or contact offenses. They also make it easier for like-minded offenders to work together to augment individual and collective access to children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Whilst other up-and-coming technologies may be used to engage in child sexual exploitation and abuse, live streaming is for the most part intricate since it permits offenders to interact with child sexual abuse production in real time and leave limited evidence. Adult offenders may direct the child abuse whilst the acts are streamed live to an audience of offenders. Alternatively, offenders may entice or coerce children into using live-streaming platforms to produce child sexual abuse material. In some cases, a live stream is captured and distributed.
There are a lot of consequences to child sexual abuse online. It can have lifetime devastating effects on a child. That is why it is really crucial for Microsoft and Apple to take action to ensure that a child feels safe while using technology. They must understand how severe this could get. Considering how well-established and reputed these companies are, there is still some hope that they would take an action to protect children.