Online abuse expert helps Facebook, Google and others shape new approach to child protection

An academic specialising in child sexual exploitation has given expert guidance to Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants as they publish a new 15-year roadmap on protecting young people against online harm.

Dr Maggie Brennan, a Lecturer in Psychology at the University, was one of a handful of experts from around the world who advised the Technology Coalition in putting together its new initiative, Project Protect.

Announced today, Project Protect is the coalition’s long-term strategic plan to protect children using online services. Set up in 2006 to fight the sexual abuse of children, the body shares expertise and best practice and says it has improved detection and reporting, and helped build the capacity of law enforcement and NGOs that investigate such crimes and support survivors. Its members include many of the biggest names in social media and the wider technology industry. 

Dr Brennan was invited to give her expert opinion on how the tech sector could work most effectively to counter child sexual exploitation, sharing her research and experience in the area.

She stressed the central importance of focusing on prevention rather than reactive, after-the-fact approaches for the protection of children online, and highlighted the big differences in efforts to combat the problem across the industry, with some platforms investing heavily in child safety practices and others doing very little. This demonstrated, she said, the need to share good practice, particularly with smaller tech companies with fewer resources that might still have very large user bases.

Dr Brennan also emphasised the need for transparency and accountability in the way the revamped body would operate and the work it would carry out.

She said: “Project Protect makes an explicit commitment to the goal of preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation online. This commitment offers an unprecedented opportunity to meaningfully protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, by working together to address the preconditions to online victimisation, and to stop these offences outright."

“The new initiative will also provide urgently needed research funding and collaboration to better understand the pathways to online child sexual offending and victimisation, and to ‘design out’ opportunities for offending behaviours in online spaces. However, Project Protect goes beyond this, committing to scaling up these strategies by sharing good practice for child protection online across the industry."

“I am delighted to voice my support for the launch of this initiative and it has been a privilege to support its development. I look forward to our continued collaboration in developing research-led responses to these heinous crimes.”

The Technology Coalition is comprised of tech industry companies, represented by individuals who specialise in online child safety issues. The members of the Technology Coalition are: Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Flickr, GoDaddy, Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Roblox, Snapchat, Twitter, Verizon Media, VSCO, Wattpad and Yubo.

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