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Big tech must be forced to tackle online child sexual exploitation and grooming

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online child sexual exploitation

After years of rapid growth, major social media firms have seen their fortunes plummet over recent months, with both Twitter and Facebook suffering large slumps in their share prices after breaking out disappointing new user numbers over the summer. Whether or not privacy issues, the dissemination of fake news or accusations of political bias are turning users away from these platforms, it appears they are heading back down to earth at a fast pace. A major reason for their fall might have something to do with their almost maniacal pursuit of growth at all cost, regardless of the impact this might have on the wellbeing of their users. Just last month, Facebook co-founder Aaron Greenspan told the Telegraph that Mark Zuckerberg had designed the platform to be as addictive as possible, ignoring warnings that lives could be lost as a result of the way in which it is structured.

While it might be a little strong to suggest that Zuckerberg cares little as to whether lives are lost as a result his company’s activities, social media firms in general appear less than willing to invest in measures designed to protect their users from potentially harmful content. While spending billions of dollars on research and development each year in pursuit of the next big tech trend, these companies spend only a fraction of their huge profits on eradicating illegal content from their networks, be it related to drugs, weapons, people smuggling or child sexual exploitation.

Earlier this week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid delivered a speech in which he told major tech firms such as Microsoft, Google and Twitter they must do more to tackle online child sexual exploitation and grooming, and that he would not be afraid to take action against them if they failed to do so. Noting how online paedophiles have become as determined as terrorists to cover their tracks online, Javid told an audience how predators in Western nations such as Britain are increasingly live-streaming child sex abuse shows for as little as £12 ($15.40), and that the gangs behind this growing industry are offering their customers the option to choose the hair colour and other characteristics of their victims. Javid said that while he has been impressed with the progress large technology firms have made in tackling terrorist material on their platforms, he now wants to see a similar level of commitment when it comes to child sexual exploitation. “I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it,” he said. “How far we legislate will be informed by the action and attitude that industry takes.”

While Javid’s intervention is certainly welcome, it remains to be seen as to whether big tech firms will do more than continue to pay lip service to eradicating child sexual exploitation material and grooming from their networks. Law enforcement agencies across the globe have been complaining about this issue for years, with very little being done on the part of these companies to solve the problem. The fact that surface web platforms are still being used by paedophiles should be a constant source of shame for big tech, which appears reluctant to allocate significant resources to tackling issue, perhaps due to the fact that doing so would not provide an attractive enough return on investment. This is in spite of the fact that evidence suggests the problem is getting worse rather than better.

In April, British child protection charity the NSPCC revealed that Facebook was the most popular platform for paedophiles looking to groom children online. The following month, a report from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which works to remove indecent images of children from the web, revealed that minors as young as three were being coerced into live-streaming indecent images of themselves to online predatory paedophiles using social media platforms. In April of last year, a coalition of law enforcement agencies broke up a network of paedophiles involved in the distribution of child sexual exploitation material through dark web platforms and WhatsApp. Elsewhere, Twitter has been criticised for failing to close accounts belonging to self-confessed paedophiles who used their profiles to openly discuss their attraction to children. Many were found to be using profiles pictures that might appeal to youngsters.

While the problem of child sexual exploitation material and grooming on the internet is complex and will likely take some time to resolve, few outside of the industry would argue that big tech is currently doing enough to tackle the issue. While search giant Google unveiled a free artificial intelligence tool to help businesses and organisations identify indecent images of children on the internet after Javid delivered his speech, these types of efforts appear to be a low priority for companies that are in some cases worth more than nation states. The time for threats has passed. Developing technology to identify online groomers will be a major challenge, but lawmakers around the globe could make a start by fining tech firms that fail to take down child sexual exploitation material within hours of it going up, as has been suggested with terrorist content. The sad truth of the matter is that these companies will only allocate the resources required to tackle the problem if they face serious consequences for failing to do so.

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Google boasts of efforts to tackle online piracy in new report

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Google boasts of efforts to tackle online piracy

A new report from Google has revealed what the search giant is doing to prevent pirates from using its tools to make money from copyright infringement and the theft of intellectual property.

In the study, Google explains how it evaluated material published on 882 million webpages last year after receiving reports of intellectual property theft from rights holders.

The search giant said it took down 95% of these URLs, noting that it rejected some 54 million removal requests that were either incomplete, mistaken or abusive.

The company said it rejected more than 10 million search adverts last year due to concerns over copyright infringement, and noted that 98% of copyright claims on YouTube were made through its Content ID system in 2017.

Content ID allows creators to control their work without having to send takedown notices, Google said in the report, noting that over 90% of all claims made through the system result in monetisation, “generating significant revenue for YouTube partners”.

Explaining how it is working with governments and policymakers across the globe on new ways to tackle online piracy, Google lists a number of partnerships and voluntary agreements it has entered into over the past year with groups that protect rights holders’ interests, including the Centre National du Cinema and the French anti-piracy association ALPA, the Motion Picture Association and the Australian Digital Alliance (ADA).

Looking at how it rewards genuine rights holders, Google said it paid out more than $3 billion to YouTube account owners who had monetised their content last year, and had handed over $1.8 billion to the music industry between October 2017 and September 2018 in advertising revenue alone.

Commenting on the contents of the report in a blog post, Google Head of Copyright Cedric Manara wrote: “We invest significantly in the technology, tools and resources that prevent copyright infringement on our platforms.

“We also work with others across the industry on efforts to combat piracy. These efforts appear to be having an effect: around the world, online piracy has been decreasing, while spending on legitimate content is rising across content categories.”

The report was published after the Australian government last month vowed to crack down on search engines such as Google and Yahoo! that facilitate access to pirated content.

Outlining the contents of a new bill designed to tackle online piracy, the Australian government said: “An injunction against an online search engine provider is a reasonable, necessary and proportionate response to the need to protect the rights of creators and their licensees from infringing material being distributed to, or accessed by, persons in Australia.”

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Microsoft takes down bogus Chrome ad after complaint from angry user

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Microsoft takes down bogus Chrome ad

Microsoft has taken down a fake Chrome ad from its Bing search engine used by hackers to target people looking to download Google’s popular internet browser.

The software giant pulled the ad after receiving complaints from users that clicking on it may have resulted in malicious software being downloaded onto their devices.

In a Twitter post last week, web developer Gabriel Landau explained how he used the ad to download Chrome onto a brand new Windows 10 device.

Having clicked on it, Landau found he was diverted to a fake website that appeared to be infecting his machine with malicious content.

The site was designed to look like Google’s Chrome landing page, and while it was not a precise match, it looked convincing enough to fool most users.

“Brand new Win10 laptop. Attempt to install Chrome. Almost get owned with my very first action,” Landau wrote. “Why is this still happening in 2018, @bing? Please explain.”

Buyers of Windows devices are routinely forced to search for Chrome using Microsoft products on account of the fact the search giant’s apps are not routinely bundled with machines powered by Microsoft’s operating system.

This has led to speculation that Microsoft might not be doing all that it could to block fake Chrome ads on Bing in an attempt to better compete with its rival’s browser, which is more popular than its own alternatives.

Ads placed on search engines such as Bing should go through rigorous inspection before they are allowed to go live to ensure they have not been placed by hackers.

On this occasion, it appears Microsoft’s processes allowed a malicious ad to slip past.

Google’s Chrome is said to have been blocking the malicious site for some time, but Bing and Microsoft’s Edge browser were allowing users to access it, potentially putting their devices at risk.

Microsoft said the ad had now been taken down and the user account behind it had been suspended.

In a statement, the software company said: “Protecting customers from malicious content is a top priority and we have removed the ads from Bing and banned the associated account. We encourage users to continue to report this type of content so we can take appropriate action.”

Bleeping Computer reported users complaining about the fake ads back in April, suggesting that Microsoft might have moved quicker to minimise the threat posed to users of its products.

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New Zealanders most likely to fall victim to tech support scams, Microsoft finds

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A study from software giant Microsoft has revealed that New Zealand consumers are the most likely across the globe to be targeted in technical support scams.

Technical support scams typically involve victims being contacted about fictitious problems with their computers or other devices by fraudsters pretending to work for companies such as Microsoft.

After making contact by phone, email, pop-up message or SMS, technical support scammers either attempt to trick victims into allowing them to infect their computer systems with malware, or take payment for the repair of non-existent computer problems.

The Microsoft study found that when to comes to being targeted by technical support scam phone calls and pop-ups, New Zealanders are leading the world.

Young New Zealand men are the most likely demographic to lose money in a technical support scam, partly on account of their reckless behaviour and overconfidence in their computer and cyber savviness, according to Microsoft.

Of the 16 nationalities polled for the Microsoft-commissioned TRG survey, New Zealanders reported being exposed to the highest number of technical support scams, with more than 75% of respondents from the country reporting having experienced at least one.

While over a fifth (21%) of New Zealanders who reported having been targeted in a technical support scam admitted to being tricked into continuing with an interaction, only 6% said they had suffered direct financial losses as a consequence.

Russell Craig, Microsoft New Zealand’s National Technology Officer, commented: “The common stereotype of scam victims is that they are elderly and less experienced with computers and software, but this is a case of a little knowledge leading to overconfidence.

“Because computer use is skewed towards younger generations and males, who are also more likely to engage in riskier behaviours such as visiting torrent download sites, they are more likely to encounter scams.

“Greater exposure plus greater confidence using computers makes under 40s and men more susceptible to clever scammers.”

Respondents to the survey said they believed the responsibility for tackling technical support scams lays primarily with consumer protection agencies, followed by law enforcement authorities and regulators.

Technical support scams typically target computer users in wealthy western countries, and are often run by organised crime networks from boiler room call centres set up in countries such as India.

Consumers should always be sceptical of unsolicited messages or phone calls regarding problems with their computer equipment, as technology firms tend not to contact their customers in this manner.

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