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Tech companies must actively detect online child abuse from Brussels,

The European Commission presented a legislative proposal on Wednesday afternoon with a new package of heavy measures against the spread of online child abuse. One of the most important rules must be that tech companies such as Meta, Google and Apple actively look for illegal images that users share.

The Commission believes that voluntary measures by tech companies have not yet yielded enough results. That is why Brussels now wants an obligation to detect child sexual abuse online.

The companies must delete the messages in question and report them to the authorities. If they do not, there is a risk of high fines.

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The spread of online child abuse is a major problem in Europe, according to a report by the Internet Watch Foundation. In Europe, much of such content is hosted. Some 62 percent of the illegal images were on European servers in 2021.

The bill has been in the making for years and has already been postponed once, partly because of objections about the privacy of users.

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It is therefore questionable how companies will detect the sharing of the illegal content, especially since chat services such as WhatsApp encrypt messages between two people in such a way that only participants in the conversation can see the content.

‘Large part of abuse messages are on encrypted platforms’

With the technology called client-side device scanning, it would still be possible to scan these types of conversations for potentially harmful content. For this purpose, databases are used in which known abuse photos are contained.

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Data from those images (or texts) can then be compared fully automatically with shared images in chats, even if they are encrypted. If something suspicious is found, tech companies must notify the authorities.

The European Commission believes that these services should be checked, even if they are encrypted. “A large part of the abuse messages are on encrypted platforms,” says a Q&A from the Commission. “Th

ey can be used by criminals to cover their tracks. If these services were to be given an exceptional position, this would have major consequences for children.”

Privacy protection concerns

Critics of the bill have major privacy concerns for all users, not just those of criminals. The digital civil rights organization Bits of Freedom reacted with dismay to the proposal. “Through this proposal, the European Commission wants to have spyware installed on everyone’s phone,” says policy advisor Rejo Zenger. “That’s unacceptable.”

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Zenger emphasizes that the fight against sexual abuse of children is extremely important, but also says that this is not the solution. “The confidentiality of communication is indispensable for everyone, including children and victims of sexual abuse.”

The bill has yet to be passed. The European Parliament and the EU Member States will vote on this at a later date.

Tech companies must actively detect online child abuse from Brussels

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