Technique launched to identify online groomers

A new technique designed to identify and block conversations between sexual predators and children has been launched by the Home Office and Microsoft.

The new technique which uses artificial intelligence will flag conversations which could be taking place between groomers and children and pass on the details of the flagged conversations to the relevant law enforcement agency.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Predators must get the message loud and clear, that there is no safe space to groom children for abuse.

“We are committed to stamping out this vile crime and this technique is just one part of that. Through collaboration with international partners and industry we are leading a worldwide effort to keep children safe from abuse,” she added.

The technique, which began development at a hackathon co-hosted by Microsoft and the Home Office in November 2018 will be free of charge, to small and medium-sized technology companies to help them stamp out child grooming on their platforms.

The prototype of the technique for Project Artemis was developed in Seattle in 2018 when engineers from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Snap and Twitter worked for two days analysing thousands of conversations to understand patterns used by predators.

Engineers have since worked through technical, legal and policy aspects, analysing thousands more instances of grooming conversations to develop the technique. The work was led by a cross industry group made up of Microsoft, The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik, Thorn and others and the group was spearheaded by leading academic Dr Hany Farid who had previously worked to develop a tool which assisted in the detection, disruption and reporting of child exploitation images.

The charity Thorn, which focuses on harnessing the power of technology to protect children online, will handle the licensing and adoption of the technique.

Microsoft Chief Digital Safety Officer Courtney Gregoire said: “At Microsoft, we embrace a multi-stakeholder model to combatting online child exploitation that includes survivors and their advocates, government, tech companies, and civil society working together.

“We are sharing a new technique – code name Project Artemis – to help prevent the online grooming of children for sexual purposes.

“We invite other collaborators to embrace this technique, join the fight, and support continuous improvement,” he added.

This tool is part of the UK government’s work to tackle child sexual exploitation in all its forms. Other measures to stamp out online child abuse include £30m funding to target the most the most dangerous and sophisticated offenders on the web and upgrades to the Child Abuse Image Database. These include new tools to improve the capabilities of police to rapidly analyse seized devices and identify victims.

The Home Office is also working with the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) to develop tools to identify and block live streamed child sexual abuse and pledged £300,000 in May to further develop capabilities.