Solving Online Child Exploitation Through Technology
Technology Tools: One Component of a Comprehensive Approach
Combating online child sexual exploitation is a complex and critical issue that requires a multi-faceted approach involving technology, law enforcement collaboration, legal and policy measures, and public awareness.
The use of technology can help in the fight against online child sexual exploitation.
Technology can be one of the measures that play a crucial role in solving this problem.
Technology can help prevent, detect, and combat online child sexual exploitation crimes and develop better intervention strategies.
While responsible companies have made improvements to help in the fight against online abuse in recent years, technology companies need to do more in order to enhance their due diligence to identify human rights risks of children on their platforms and take meaningful steps to address these risks in their services.
This article presents some of the main latest technological measures that are being used to reduce online child sexual exploitation and abuse to prevent offendings, protect children from harm, and deter and hold offenders accountable.
7 Latest Technologies to Combat Online Child Sexual Exploitation
1.Image and Video Analysis
Image and video analysis technologies use techniques like hashing, digital fingerprinting, and content recognition to identify and track explicit and exploitative images and videos of children.
These tools can help law enforcement agencies and technology companies to identify and remove such content from the internet.
Valuable tools in this category include Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and PhotoDNA for Video, which help in the identification and removal of illegal images and video content from online platforms, as well as assist in identifying victims and perpetrators.
a. Microsoft PhotoDNA
This technology was developed by Microsoft Research in collaboration with Dartmouth College to combat online child exploitation.
PhotoDNA is an image-identification and matching tool that helps detect and remove explicit and exploitative images and videos involving children.
This technology is designed to assist electronic service providers (ESPs), law enforcement agencies, and organizations in their efforts to combat the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or child pornography and child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) on the internet.
The PhotoDNA technology works by creating a unique signature or “hash” for an image that represents its visual content.
This hash is a compact numerical representation that is highly resistant to modifications, such as resizing or slight changes in color.
When an image is flagged as potentially explicit or illegal, PhotoDNA compares its hash against a database of known illegal images, enabling rapid identification and removal of harmful content.
Thus, Microsoft PhotoDNA scans systems for CSAM/CSEM hashes, blocking any it encounters.
PhotoDNA does not rely on visual recognition or scanning for explicit content.
Instead, it focuses on the unique signature of an image, allowing it to detect even modified versions of the original.
This approach helps combat offenders who may attempt to alter or obfuscate explicit or exploitative material.
Microsoft has made the PhotoDNA technology freely available to organizations involved in combating online child exploitation.
This technology has been adopted by numerous ESPs and other technology companies (e.g., Google, Facebook, and Twitter) to proactively identify and remove CSAM/CSEM from their platforms.
Thanks to this tool, providers have removed millions of illegal photographs online, aided in prosecuting offenders, and helped law enforcement locate potential victims.
By utilizing PhotoDNA, companies can significantly contribute to the fight against child exploitation and protect their users from exposure to harmful content.
b. Microsoft's PhotoDNA for Video
PhotoDNA for Video takes the program a step further by creating hashes for each keyframe in a video.
This technology has removed videos as a potential haven for CSAM/CSEM distributors.
Similar to image analysis, video analysis can be used to identify and categorize explicit and exploitative videos involving children.
PhotoDNA for video is a technique that can be applied to detect and track videos that contain CSAM/CSEM.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based Data Analysis Techniques
AI can be used to develop advanced algorithms that can identify and classify explicit and exploitative content involving children.
Machine learning techniques can be employed to train models to recognize patterns and detect suspicious activities or behavior online.
These technologies can help identify potential victims, track trafficking networks, and detect suspicious activities on online platforms by enabling automated content analysis of large volumes of data, which helps to identify patterns related to online child exploitation crimes and remove illegal material more efficiently.
As AI exponentially improves at pattern recognition, companies should adopt AI to routinely review their platforms to detect content and activities of online child sexual exploitation.
3. Blockchain Technology
Blockchain, a decentralized and transparent ledger system, can be used to improve transparency and traceability in supply chains and financial transactions.
This technology can help track and verify transactions related to child sexual exploitation, making it more challenging for traffickers to operate discreetly.
4. Dark Web Monitoring Tools
The dark web is often used for illegal activities, including child sex trafficking.
Dark web monitoring tools employ techniques like web crawling and data analysis to identify websites, forums, and marketplaces involved in child sexual exploitation.
The information collected by those monitoring tools can then be used by law enforcement agencies to investigate content and activities and take action.
5. Digital Identity Verification
Digital identity verification tools help to ensure the age and identity of individuals involved in online transactions or activities, making it more challenging for traffickers to use fake identities or exploit minors through online platforms.
6. Data Analysis and Forensics
Advanced data analysis techniques, including network traffic analysis and data mining, can be employed to identify online networks and individuals involved in child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation activities, while digital forensics tools help gather and analyze evidence and facilitate law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.
7. Web Filtering and Content Moderation
Web filtering systems can be used to block or restrict access to websites and online platforms that host or promote child sexual exploitation material and activities.
Content moderation teams, both human and AI-based, can review user-generated content, identify and report illegal material, and take appropriate action.
Human Rights Considerations When Implementing Technological Solutions to Protect Children Online
While internet companies should take prevention measures to avoid being involved in risks and harms to children through their services or being perceived as in complicity to such harm, their measures need to ensure respect for human rights.
Hence, governments should provide effective guidance to ESPs on how they should comply with their human rights responsibilities.
To properly implement technological solutions in detecting, reporting, and removing child sexual exploitation, internet companies should adhere to legal frameworks and human rights considerations.
ESPs should stay ahead of evolving trafficking methods and implement solutions to protect children online while striking a balance with the protection of civil rights.
The U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provides guidance to corporations to achieve the goal of child protection while ensuring the rights of children and other users, including civil rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
By following these human rights considerations and guidelines in the fight against this heinous crime, ESPs can prioritize the safeguarding of children while at the same time respecting individual rights:
1. Right to privacy: Internet companies should respect users' right to privacy while implementing measures to detect child exploitation.
Any data collection or monitoring should be done per applicable laws and regulations, focusing on minimizing the impact on privacy rights.
2. Freedom of expression: Internet companies should balance their efforts to detect child exploitation with the right to freedom of expression.
Content moderation policies and practices should be carefully designed to avoid unnecessary censorship or stifling legitimate expression.
3. Non-discrimination: Companies should ensure that their efforts to detect child exploitation are carried out without discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, gender, or any other status.
Fair and consistent practices should be in place to avoid bias or disparate treatment.
4. Transparency and accountability: Internet companies should maintain transparency in their detection processes, policies, and actions.
ESPs should provide clear guidelines and mechanisms for users to appeal decisions and report concerns.
Companies should also be accountable for the actions they take in detecting and reporting child exploitation.
5. Data protection: Internet companies should handle user data responsibly and in accordance with relevant data protection laws.
ESPs should implement appropriate security measures to protect user information and ensure that data is retained only for as long as necessary.
6. Collaboration with law enforcement: Companies should cooperate with law enforcement agencies and promptly report suspected child exploitation content and activities for investigation.
However, they should also be mindful of sharing only necessary and relevant information, following legal procedures and safeguards.
7. Child protection measures: Internet companies should have robust measures in place to protect children using their platforms, such as age verification mechanisms, reporting tools, and educational resources, to raise awareness and promote online child safety.
Internet companies play a crucial role in detecting, removing, and reporting content and activities against children for sexual purposes.
Some ESPs block URLs known to contain CSAM/CSEM and remove such content, while others use hashtag seekers to find and remove images that law enforcement or hotlines have tagged as containing child sexual abuse.
Due to the risks and harms to children associated with online platforms, the safety and well-being of children up to 18 years old should be a top priority for internet companies.
Internet companies have a responsibility to take proactive measures to protect children online.
As part of internet companies’ prevention measures, they should regularly review and enhance their protection measures by staying updated on changing trends, industry best practices, and user feedbacks to ensure adequate ongoing protection for children.
While technological advancements will continue to drive progress in this field and more tools and techniques will be developed, it is essential that internet companies implement these solutions to protect children online while keeping in mind the ethical use of technology, privacy laws, and respect for civil rights and international human rights standards.
Comprehensive guidelines for industry-wide standards and regulations can help to implement a consistent approach among internet companies to prevent and combat online child exploitation.
Positive efforts to effectively address this serious issue include collaboration between technology companies and law enforcement agencies.
Collaborations with law enforcement agencies should be strengthened, allowing better-coordinated efforts to share information and intelligence, leading to more effective investigations and measures to combat online child sex trafficking.
What Is Human Trafficking Front Doing?
Human Trafficking Front works tirelessly in the prevention of online crimes against children for sexual purposes.
The effective end of these online crimes against children requires, among other things, prevention measures, appropriate legal frameworks, and technological measures to protect children from harm and a greater deterrence of offenders.
Human Trafficking Front designs and deliver education programs and awareness campaigns about child sex trafficking and online child protection.
We provide capacity-building programs to first professionals, including law enforcement and social and health service providers, equipping relevant groups practically and strategically in the implementation of best practices.
Human Trafficking Front develops resources and campaigns for parents, guardians, and families to protect children and report suspicious activities.
Human Trafficking Front raises awareness to the community at-large to develop early detection and intervention strategies and promote online child safety practices.
Act Now. For more tools and information, check out our Resources page.
This best practices prevention guide and publication is part of the Human Trafficking Front's program: Putting an End to the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children: Preventing Victimization and Strengthening Child Protection Systems.
 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2022). CyberTipline 2022 Report. https://www.missingkids.org/cybertiplinedata
 Langston, J. (2018, September 12). How PhotoDNA for Video is being used to fight online child exploitation. Microsoft News. https://news.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2018/09/12/how-photodna-for-video-is-being-used-to-fight-online-child-exploitation/#