A new industry award

On this crucial day for children, as the EU’s “trilogue” meets to decide the fate of proactive child protection tools within the 27 Member States, I have decided to inaugurate a new annual award.

I think I will call it “The Techno Chutzpah Oscar” but if anyone can come up with a better name please let me know.

The Oscar will go to the company that most transparently and egregiously behaves or speaks hypocritically in the context of online child protection. And I have no hesitation naming Facebook the inaugural winner.

Here is an extract from the New York Times of 4th December 2020

“Facebook, the most prolific reporter of child sexual abuse imagery worldwide, said it would stop proactive scanning entirely in the E.U. if the regulation took effect. In an email, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the company was “concerned that the new rules as written today would limit our ability to prevent, detect and respond to harm,” but said it was “committed to complying with the updated privacy laws.” ( emphasis added)

This statement came from the company that normally goes straight to court when it decides it doesn’t like something a Government has said or done. Such legal actions sometimes win, sometime lose, but they almost always delay. Why not here? Why the immediate collapse without so much as the whiff of a writ?

Instead of  Facebook saying it is

“committed to complying with the updated privacy laws” 

could we not have heard the following?

“We saw the Opinion of the EDPS and we think it is rubbish. Facebook  believes there is a clear and firm legal basis which supports our use of proactive child protection tools. Our lawyers wouldn’t have let us deploy them in the first place were it otherwise. This legal basis is established under a variety of international legal instruments. In fact we would go further and say we believe we have both a legal and a moral obligation to use the best available means to protect children. We will vigorously defend that position in court should it prove necessary.”

But maybe the more obvious point, the one that gets them over the line and justifies the award of the first ever Techno Chutzpah Oscar is, lest we forget, Facebook  is the company that has acknowledged it has gigantic quantities of child sex abuse imagery being exchanged using its platforms but, nevertheless, still intends to encrypt the very services the new EU privacy law affects, if it remains unaltered.

If Facebook goes ahead with end-to-end encrytion in the way they have said, what happens with the EU law will not matter, at least not within EU Member States, because none of the tools will be able to penetrate the encrytion anyway.

Am I being unkind and cyncial? Was Facebook merely striking a pose to try to encourage the EU to do the right thing, in part because they have already decided internally to abandon end to end encryption? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address.

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. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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