Advertisers urged to help tackle online child sexual exploitation

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The Home Secretary today (Wednesday 19 December) urged leading advertising agencies, brands and advertising exchanges to do more to prevent adverts funding child sexual exploitation and abuse.

It came as research found that one in ten websites dedicated to child sexual abuse host adverts for legitimate brands, including some household names.

Sajid Javid hosted a meeting with key partners to discuss how to ensure criminals no longer have access to this funding stream

Speaking after the roundtable, the Home Secretary said:

The findings of this research are horrifying and it’s vital that brands and advertisers take note.

I want to see advertisers do everything in their power to prevent unscrupulous websites from making money from this horrendous crime.

I welcome the commitment from key players to take this work forward.

Preliminary research into a sample of 100 CSE websites from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), commissioned by the Home Office, found that 57 contained adverts.

While the majority of these were for sites displaying legal adult pornography or adult dating sites, some were for mainstream brands including for gambling companies, a tech firm, a travel agent, a clothing brand, and an online gaming platform.

The findings follow the Home Secretary’s commitment make it his mission to tackle online CSE, which includes looking at all aspects of this crime.

Following the findings of its snapshot research, the IWF welcomed the taskforce and recommended further investigation to find the best technical solution to this problem.

Fred Langford, the IWF’s Deputy CEO, said:

The IWF has identified a disturbing trend in which ads are being posted online alongside child sexual abuse imagery.

We must now dig deeper and assess the extent to which advertisers are supporting online CSE, unwittingly or not. Children are at stake, and harnessing experience from across the digital advertising industry is the right way to go, creating a taskforce to deliver effective solutions without delay.

Among those attending the taskforce included advertising trade bodies – Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, Internet Advertising Bureau, Advertising Association and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA). Today’s meeting also brought together representatives from law enforcement, other government departments and the IWF.

Phil Smith, Director General of ISBA, said:

The issue of child sexual exploitation online is of great concern to ISBA and we fully support the establishment of the task force by the Home Secretary and Home Office.

For the last 2 years we have been leading our members as they address the risk of their advertising appearing in harmful contexts. It is beyond doubt that our members take their responsibilities in this area very seriously and understand how important it is to ensure their advertising is not inadvertently funding this type of unacceptable content.

We know that more action is required and that we all have a role to play in tackling this issue.

In addition to child sexual abuse, the working group was briefed on how government and advertisers are taking action to prevent the dissemination of terrorist content online, and the progress that has been made in this area.

In October, the Home Secretary travelled to the west coast of the US to demand that tech firms do more to tackle online CSE and to develop a tool to detect child grooming.

Other measures announced include:

  • a taskforce, chaired by the Home Secretary, bringing together representatives from ad agencies, trade bodies and brands to ensure criminals don’t have access to this funding stream
  • a £250,000 innovation call for organisations to bid for funding to assist them in developing innovative solutions to disrupt live streaming of abuse
  • new tools to improve the capabilities of the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) – the database used by the NCA and UK police forces to search for indecent images of children and increase the ability to identify victims
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