IT Systems and Data Protection

10.01.20

New artificial intelligence technique to stop online child grooming

A newly developed technique which uses artificial intelligence to identify and block child grooming conversations online has been launched by the Home Office and Microsoft in Seattle.

The method, which began expansion at a hackathon co-hosted by Microsoft and the Home Office in November 2018, will automatically flag conversations which could be taking place between groomers and children, and pass on the details of the flagged conversation to the relevant law enforcement agency.

From the Thursday (9 January), free of charge, the technique will be licensed to small and medium-sized technology companies to help them stamp out child grooming on their platforms.

The prototype of the technology was created Seattle in 2018. Engineers from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Snap and Twitter worked for two days analysing thousands of conversations to understand patterns used by predators.

Since then, engineers have worked through technical, legal and policy aspects, analysing thousands more instances of grooming conversations to develop the technique. The work was led by a cross industry group made up of Microsoft, The Met Group, Roblox, Kik, Thorn and others.

The group was ran by leading academic Dr Hany Farid who has previously worked to develop a tool which assisted in the detection, disruption and reporting of child exploitation images.

Licensing and adoption of the technique will be handled by Thorn, a charity that focuses on harnessing the power of technology to guard children online.

This technology is part of the government’s work to block all forms of child sexual exploitation. In July, the Home Secretary brought together counterparts from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand at the Five Country Ministerial meeting in London to deliberate how to tackle online child sexual abuse.

Ministers agreed to work together on designing a set of voluntary principles that will ensure online platforms have the systems required to stop the viewing and sharing of child sexual abuse material, the grooming of children online, and the livestreaming of child sexual abuse.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Predators must get the message loud and clear, that there is no safe space to groom children for abuse.

“We are committed to stamping out this vile crime and this technique is just one part of that. Through collaboration with international partners and industry we are leading a worldwide effort to keep children safe from abuse.”

Minister for Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Online grooming of children is utterly sickening which is why it’s vital to drive innovation to tackle this appalling crime.

“The launch of this technology represents the culmination of months of hard work by those committed to keeping our children safe online.”

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