More than 1,700 websites in the EU may contain unreported child sexual abuse (CSAM) content, a new report has found.
These alarming findings come from a recent study conducted by the experts at Surfshark. Researchers have also looked into this problem globally, documenting an increase in CSAM reports being submitted to authorities. There were approximately 83 million reports between 2020 and 2022, with EU countries accounting for 3.1 million.
The investigation comes as a group of tech companies, including SurfSark, penned an open letter to EU ministers calling on them to withdraw from proposed anti-CSAM regulations that would allow authorities to scan all citizens' private communications for dangerous content. It took place a few days after I wrote it. By looking at currently available technological solutions, VPN service providers are asking important questions about how this growing problem can be addressed without compromising people's privacy.
Children's online security is at risk
“There may be thousands of unreported websites containing CSAM at any given time. Our research estimates that there are as many as 1,720 websites in the EU alone. “It's scary to think how many sites exist around the world that have yet to be reported,” Surfshark spokesperson Lina Survila told me when commenting on the findings.
As mentioned above, Surfshark researchers investigated the scope of child exploitation issues online in the EU and around the world.
In Europe, Poland This country appears to have the largest CSAM problem, as it may account for 16% of the EU's infections (269 unreported domestic harmful websites). France Followed by 260 potentially dangerous websites. Germany For 158, Hungary 152, and Italy At 110.
Globally, concerns about children's online safety are highest in Asia, accounting for two-thirds of the 83 million CSAM reports filed between 2020 and 2022. According to the researchers, India Accounting for almost 16% of these reports (more than 13 million), followed by of Philippines With 7.1 million reports, Pakistan 5.4 million, Indonesia and bangladesh 4.7 million each.
To compile this alarming dataset, researchers utilized open source information from 2020 to 2022 from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC is the US agency that Big Tech companies are legally required to contact in such cases. These resources were compared with data reported by the Lithuanian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (RRT). You can learn more about Surfhsark's methodology here.
Innovation for privacy protection solutions
Perhaps the most important part of Surfshark's research lies behind the RRT findings. In 2022, state agency regulators will partner with proxy service provider Oxilabs to conduct an experiment to demonstrate how new technology can help combat the CSAM problem in a privacy-preserving manner. It was conducted.
The company has developed a new AI-powered tool that can scrape the web and effectively identify illegal content. Analyze the image's metadata to determine if there is a match in a police database. These images are passed through machine learning models that can detect pornographic material.
The free project lasted two months and scanned approximately 300,000 Lithuanian websites. The tool successfully identified 19 local websites that violate national or EU law. This resulted in eight police reports and two pre-trial investigations.
Survila said Oxilabs' experiment should serve as an example of how technological innovation can aid authorities in their efforts to stop online child sexual abuse. she said to me: “While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the proactive steps taken by some governments can provide guidance for others to address these complex challenges.”
Did you know that?
Last October, the EU Parliament reached a historic agreement calling for the removal of anti-chat clauses from the EU's proposal to scan child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The decision was made to reiterate that privacy is a fundamental right and to protect online security and encryption. However, the time has now come for each EU member state to agree on their respective positions. Ministers hope to find a deal by March.
The so-called chat control proposal currently being debated in the EU parliament appears to take a completely different direction, with experts warning it could have a negative impact on public safety.
They highlighted that Sidescan Chat is not only an encryption attack that violates people's privacy, but it can also open backdoors that criminals can exploit.
If it is true that this invasive approach is supposed to address widespread dangers online, then “an individual's right to privacy should be non-negotiable, and in order to combat abusive content online, “Such laws should not be considered before all other measures are taken,” he said. Savilla.
In fact, she believes the first step for governments should be to experiment with less invasive tools like web scraping to identify and combat dangerous material being published.
Denas Grybauskas, head of legal affairs at Oxylabs, believes the European Commission (EC) understands that such intrusions into citizens' privacy should only be allowed as a last resort. . Still, he believes it's important to discuss technology-enabled alternatives in more detail.
“I would appreciate it if you could give me an example like this: [Oxylabs’ pro bono project] And a wider range of technological options will be openly discussed by the EC as it develops regulations that could potentially harm the privacy of all EU citizens,” he told me. Ta.
In the meantime, he said the Oxilabs team continues to work with RRT to improve its existing AI-powered web scraping tools. The company also continues to engage further with organizations, students, and researchers to develop additional software solutions for today's online threats.
In this regard, Grybauskas said, “We always welcome new partnerships with researchers, academia, and public institutions who want to use public web data to solve important research questions and missions.” Ta.