Facebook has spent most of this year being yelled at for horrible decisions. Just this year, they’ve been ok with photoshopped Tweets, refused to ban political ads, and were used to livestream the Christchurch terror attack. Now they’re being warned that their encryption plans could be making it way easier to groom kids.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is a British charity working in child protection, and they’ve got a pretty stark warning to Facebook about what will happen if they go through with encryption Messenger and Instagram messages.
WhatApp, which is also owned by Facebook, currently has end-to-end encryption in its messaging. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that they wanted to bring that feature to both Messenger and Instagram to improve privacy for users, but unfortunately not everyone necessarily deserves that privacy.
Encryption makes it much harder for people grooming kids – or getting up to any other sort of creepy behaviour – to be tracked and caught. Last year in England and Wales, 9000 incidents of child grooming were recorded where the police knew how the people had been communicating. Of those 9000, Instagram had 2,009 of them, and 1,719 were flagged on Facebook or Messenger.
Compare that to 300 incidents reported using WhatsApp.
That’s not to say that people aren’t grooming kids over WhatsApp, they absolutely are, and we know it. The difference is that once they move to an app with encryption – like Facebook, if they get their way – the conversations become way harder to trace, and once people work that out they’re guaranteed to exploit it.
With the safety of minors in the spotlight after the whole Prince Andrew debacle, it’s a particularly timely warning.
Andy Burrows is the Head of Child Safety Online Policy for NSPCC, and says that Facebook knows what they’re doing.
“Instead of working to protect children and make the online world they live in safer, Facebook is actively choosing to give offenders a place to hide in the shadows and risks making itself a one-stop grooming shop.”
Facebook hasn’t gone through with the encryption just yet, so there’s still time for them to backtrack. Judging by the year they’ve had though, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Always be in the loop with our snackable podcast breaking the biggest story of the day. Subscribe to It’s Been A Big Day For… on your favourite podcast app.