Facebook 'doesn't care' about helping police solve child abuse, senior officer warns

Mike Wright
Mark Zuckerberg announcing the company's encryption plans for Messenger last April - AP

Facebook "doesn't care" about helping police solve child abuse, one of Britain's most senior police officers has warned as he criticised the social media giant’s encyption plans.

Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Child Protection, said the company’s plan to encrypt its one-billion-user Messenger service showed the company was “not listening” to police concerns.

Speaking in a BBC Radio 4 documentary due to air this evening, Mr Bailey also warned the public was not aware full “horror” of the sheer scale of online abuse and said tech giants were paying “lip service to the threat” to children.

The programme, entitled Boy in the Video, follows reporter Lucy Proctor attempts to identify a boy in a distressing child sex abuse video that was shared  in a “school mums” WhatsApp group, of which she was part.  

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 35-year-old CEO, announced the company plans to encrypt its Messenger messaging service, meaning not even it will be able to see what was being sent over it.

Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Child Protection Credit:  Norfolk Police

The company said it was moving towards encryption as part of a drive to become a "privacy-focused" social network.

Last year, the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said 12 million of the more than 18 million reports of child abuse images it received in 2018 came from Messenger.

Mr Bailey said: “When you look at Facebook’s latest decision to end-to-end encrypt Facebook Messenger, they are simply turning around and saying: ‘Okay we’re not listening to you. We don’t care – privacy’s more important.’

"How can any reasonable person think that that is alright?”

The senior officer, who is also the Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary, said in the 1990s there had been less than 10,000 child abuse images in circulation online, whereas now the UK database had almost 14 million known images. 

He added: “If I have one really significant regret around my leadership and our response to this, it’s the fact that we have struggled to land with the public the true scale of what we are dealing with [and] the horrors of what we are dealing with.

“I’d like to have thought that actually the Facebooks, the Microsofts, the Apples, the Googles of this world would had to have done something more than what they’ve currently done because, candidly, they are paying, in my opinion, lip service to the threat.

"They hold the key to so much of this. Their duty of care, I think, to children - they have completely absolved themselves of that.”

A spokesman for Facebook said: “Keeping young people safe on our platforms is our priority and our systems remove 99 percent of child abuse content before it’s reported to us.

“In addition to using technology to proactively detect grooming and prevent child sexual exploitation on our platforms, we work with child protection experts, including specialist law enforcement teams like CEOP in the UK.

“We are also investing in technology that detects patterns of harmful behaviour so that we can ban and report those responsible.

“We’re consulting closely with child safety experts and others on the best ways to implement safety measures before fully implementing end-to-end encryption.” ”