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8.8m attempts to access child abuse imagery blocked by IWF

The Internet Watch Foundation and its partners blocked at least 8.8 million attempts by UK internet users to access videos and images of children suffering sexual abuse during lockdown, the charity has revealed.

The IWF and partners has successfully blocked and filtered at least 8.8 million attempts by UK internet users to access videos and images of children suffering sexual abuse during a one-month period while the UK was locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO of the IWF Susie Hargreaves said: “We need to face up to the fact there is a demand in the UK for this material. Given that this data comes from just three UK tech companies, 8.8million attempts is a conservative picture and the scale is much bigger – possibly millions more.”

The news comes after the National Crime Agency said it believes there are a minimum of 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical “contact” abuse or online.

The IWF, which is the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of children suffering sexual abuse from the internet, are now urgently calling for more internet companies to join them in fighting the spread of online child sexual abuse.

IWF received the data from three companies which use the IWF’s URL list. It shows that in the UK alone, there were more than 8.8 million attempts to access child sexual abuse imagery on URLs in just one month. The URL List is used by internet companies to block access to sites known to contain child sexual abuse material which is hosted outside of the UK. It prevents people from stumbling across that imagery and protects those victims whose images are circulating online.  

A notice is served to the internet user each time an attempt to access a URL on the list is made. This notice makes them aware of why they have been blocked from accessing the content, and provides details of the Stop It Now! Get Help website. Since 2015, more than 21,000 people have sought help after seeing this notice. Susie Hargreaves said more companies should use the list to keep people safe.

“The fact so many of these attempts have been blocked suggests the scale of the issue of public demand is quite staggering, and something we need to remain vigilant against,” said Ms Hargreaves.

“Whilst the majority of the UK’s internet connections are filtered by this list, there are still companies operating in the UK which offer no such protections. If we’re serious about creating a safer internet, everyone needs to step up.

“While the UK hosts less than half a percent of all child sexual abuse material in the world, UK sex predators are helping fuel the world-wide trade in some of the most depraved content on the internet.

“Anyone providing internet services should be doing everything they can to keep the users on their network safe and to protect them. Of course, the internet doesn’t respect borders, so it’s key that companies worldwide step up as well.”

Ms Hargreaves said the list – which is updated twice a day – has stopped millions of accidental and deliberate attempts to access this horrendous material.

She added: “It’s important to disrupt the availability of these images and videos, and it helps give victims reassurance that the footage of their sexual abuse is not being passed around and enjoyed by these people.”

Meanwhile, there has been “significant growth” within the UK’s safety tech sector, with the number of dedicated online safety firms doubling in the last five years, an independent study has found.

The independent study, ‘Safer technology, safer users: The UK as a world leader in Safety Tech’ says this is an important step in the government’s plans to make UK the safest place in the World to be online.

The report says organisations like the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the UK charity responsible for finding and removing online child sexual abuse material, are “leading the fight” against online criminals.

“The IWF is a unique organisation in the fight against illegal content online, as it works closely with government, industry, internet companies, social media, and law enforcement to actively trace, locate, and remove content,” said the report.

“The IWF have helped to radically reduce the volume of child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK, and continue to lead the fight.”

“Through working alongside a range of organisations responsible for network infrastructure, including ISPs, domains, filterers, hosting, search engines, social media, gaming, and mobile operators - the IWF have helped to radically reduce the volume of child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK, and continue to lead the fight,” the report added.

The IWF was set up in 1996 and, at that point, the UK hosted 18% of all known child sexual abuse material on the internet. That has now been pushed down to less than half a percent.

Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, said: “We are all spending more time online during the pandemic and this new report shows the value the safety tech sector could add as we look to power growth out of it.

“Its innovative products, many of which are developed in towns and cities across the country, are being used globally to help companies make their online platforms safer.

“The government is leading the world developing online harms laws and it’s great to see our brilliant British tech industry is part of the solution,” she concluded.

Safer technology, safer users: The UK as a world leader in Safety Tech

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