More shocking insights

Here’s another great piece from the New York Times. It’s the third in the series. The headline tells you what the focus is this time around.

Video Games and Online Chats are ‘Hunting Grounds’ for Sexual Predators

Children are the prey.

Once more the quality and depth of the research shines through, as does the amount of time and other resources the reporters devoted to smoking out the truth, talking to victims, their parents, law enforcement agencies and the companies themselves.

Internet usage among children in lots of countries is marching towards 100% for four year olds upwards. One in three of all internet users in the world is a child. This rises to over one in two in some places. Whatever else we might imagine, want or believe the internet to be it is unquestionably also a medium for children and families.

Paedophiles go where children go. Every internet company should have that fact always at the front of mind.  Very obviously, right now it isn’t.

Too many companies are hiding behind the laws which give them immunity from civil and criminal liability.  In fact the immunity creates a legal incentive for them to sit back. If the platforms did not have that immunity the services causing the problems for children would  be very different and almost certainly a lot safer.

You need to know who your customers are

On top of the immunity and part of the larger problem is the fact the same platforms are under no obligation to know who their customers are or verify any of the information they provide about themselves. It’s a lethal cocktail.

The platforms collect enough data to serve ads but not enough to keep children safe. They need to take greater responsibility for knowing who their customers are so that, if something bad happens, with proper authority the suspected wrong-doers can be swiftly and inexpensively identified. “Swiftly” and “inexpensively” are the key words there. If we can establish a new culture of accountability online crimes against children will reduce.

People who object to this idea cite the existence of totalitarian states as the reason why we need to defend the status quo.

Political problems in some parts of the world are therefore being used as a pretext for doing nothing or too little in all parts of the world. Children are an unfortunate sacrifice they are willing to pay. Not me.

And of course, the supreme irony is the people who benefit most from this are the shareholders of the very companies that created the problem in the first place. They created “surveillance capitalism” and stood by, or actively aided and abbetted, as it predictably morphed into a weapon of the “surveillance state”, vastly increasing the powers of oppressive regimes.

But not all regimes are oppressive. A great many do adhere to the Rule of Law. They do honour all the important human rights laws.

It is impossible to engage with someone who believes you cannot distinguish between the Governments of, say, Norway and North Korea.

Good news from the south

I have never met Annie McAdams but obviously we are soulmates. McAdams is  a personal injuries lawyer from the Lone Star State. She is trying to use product liability as a way of subverting the immunities the platforms have enjoyed hitherto. She has cases going in California, Georgia, Missouri and dear old Texas itself.

Facebook is fighting  them. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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