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Consumer protection

2019

During an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), where evidence from various online companies such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Google on the initiatives taken by them to combat child abuse online was heard, Facebook has been accused of leaving 'broken children as collateral damage' for their commercial aims.

Barrister William Chapman, representing the abused victims, argued that the social media companies were not taking adequate measures to prevent paedophiles from reaching out to  children online due to their business models and that the time had come for these platforms to be ‘fundamentally redesigned’. Few recommendations shared by the victims before the inquiry for the tech companies included paying compensation to the children abused by their services and to ban posing as a child online, without reasonable excuse.

 
 

US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain on 15 May. The order declares a state of emergency due to increased adversarial cyber-enabled actions, including economic and industrial espionage against the USA and its people. The order requires the US Secretary of Commerce to minimize the risks from foreign companies controlled by adversaries and deprive them from the American market from selling equipment and technologies as well as buying from US companies. The order is seen as clearly directed against China and its IT giant Huawei. Huawei was placed on the Entity List, a trade blacklist, that requires US companies to get government approval to engage in business with entities on the list. Google has suspended business operations with Huawei stating the Chinese tech giant will ’immediately lose access to updates to the Android operating system, and the next version of its smartphones outside of China will also lose access to popular applications and services including the Google Play Store and Gmail app’.

In the beginning of May, WhatsApp discovered that the service was used to install a sophisticated surveillance malware on an unknown number of smartphones. The hackers used the security flaw in WhatsApp’s voice calling function that enabled them to run ‘a remote code execution via specially crafted series of secure real-time transport protocol (SRTCP) packets sent to a target phone number’. The infection by the malicious code would happen even if the call had not been answered. The vulnerability enabled hackers to read messages on the target's device with interception tools  bypassing the end-to-end encryption used in WhatsApp.
The scale of infected devices is unknown yet, but researchers claim the attack targeted  a small number of human rights activists. The surveillance software was attributed by the Financial Times to the Israeli NSO Group, famous for its Pegasus program used by some governments to intercept the communications of human rights activists. However, the NSO Group denied its involvement in the attack. WhatsApp encouraged people to upgrade to the latest version of the app on Android, iOS, and Windows phone devices.



 

Technology companies, Facebook, Google, Apple, BT, and Microsoft have been accused of failing to prevent the online abuse of children. and will have to provide evidence on the adequacy of initiatives taken by them to prevent online abuse before the independent inquiry being held into sexual abuse of children in UK.

Opening the proceedings on Monday, legal counsel Jacqueline Carey shared cases of child abuse online and its devastating impact on their lives.The tech giants would have to provide evidence within the next ten days.

 

The UK’s National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection, Simon Bailey suggests that the only way to force social media companies to pay attention and initiate steps to protect children online is a public boycott. He shared that currently he has not seen any initiatives taken by social media companies that indicate their sincerity to safeguarding children online. He added ‘Ultimately I think the only thing they will genuinely respond to is when their brand is damaged. Ultimately the financial penalties for some of the giants of this world are going to be an absolute drop in the ocean’.

 

 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was approached by four US Senators alongside a coalition of 19 civil society organisations (headed by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Center for Digital Democracy) to launch an investigation into whether Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition violates the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The coalition presented the commission with research which exposed, among others, the following vulnerabilities of the system: it is not clear what personal information the device collects, how it uses that information, and whether it shares the information with third parties; Amazon’s system for obtaining parental consent is inadequate and it keeps the audio recordings of children’s voices far longer than necessary; and finally even when parents delete some or all of the recordings of their child, the company does not necessarily delete all of the child’s personal information.

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