Children are at the receiving end of cyber crimes. Here’s how to stop it.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India registered 1,540 cases of online child abuse between 2013‐ 2015. This is before Reliance Jio made mobile internet more available than toilets in the country and glued children to screens.

YouTube has repeatedly comes under the scanner for failing to act on “toxic content” that includes child pornography and paedophilic comments, the question arises, yet again —

Should social media companies be held responsible for the content users post and how users use their services?

Similarly with the TikTok app, which has become hugely popular with young adults, Madras High Court has appealed to the Indian government to ban the app because children can become victims to sexual predators. Their recommendation is not without merit. Anybody who follows cyber-crime will tell you — children are highly vulnerable to online crimes.

According to a 2016 UNICEF report, 52 per cent of children indicated that they were bullied on social media. Children are also frequent victims to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, banking frauds and social exclusion.

In short, children are the hardest hit by cyber crimes. And this is not just an urban problem. TikTok is more popular in rural India than urban India. To understand the nature of the problem, here’s a story of a 16 year old girl in Komachi, Karnataka.

After topping her class, a 16-year old girl was awarded a mobile tablet by her school. Her friend arranged a SIM for her tablet (under a fake profile). Soon after, she created her social media accounts and was contacted by a guy on one of the social media sites. They started chatting and she eventually agreed to meet offline.

The guy came with his group of friends, raped her, recorded a video and threatened to leak it if she protested. Thereafter, the group blackmailed her into prostitution.

She was not the only victim to their plot. There were other girls too. The case is documented in Sony’s popular crime show Crime Patrol Dastak — Episode 1010.

Is banning apps the solution to prevent online child abuse?

As the world gets more connected and access to applications becomes easier, it is increasingly becoming impossible to ban or block anything. Banning/ blocking makes access cumbersome but not impossible.

For example, most popular porn sites are blocked in India. But does that mean you can’t access porn in India? Nope.

Take a look at this message on xvideos.net (xvideos is one the largest porn sites in the world). If xvideos.com is blocked in your region, try xvideos2.com. If that’s blocked too, try xvideos.red which is a paid service. If that’s blocked too, find a site that serves content from xvideos server.

Take a look at this message on xvideos.net (xvideos is one the largest porn sites in the world). If xvideos.com is blocked in your region, try xvideos2.com. If that’s blocked too, try xvideos.red which is a paid service. If that’s blocked too, find a site that serves content from xvideos server.

You can block a million sites but you will always leave one out and people find creative ways around it. After all, porn is a $13 billion industry. With 1 in 10 people addicted to porn and 1 in 5 men admitting watching porn at work, it makes commercial sense for most of these sites to figure out a way around blocks to increase consumption and thereby revenue.

However, there is a growing need to create strict regulations, ensure compliance and enforcement.

A way forward

Both YouTube and TikTok are popular with young children who more often than not, use the applications without adult supervision. However that doesn’t mean we can’t supervise their consumption. We have tech to detect pornography and suspicious language from normal content. There are efficient image processing algorithms that can detect such content on the fly. If Facebook can suggest who to tag on a photograph we upload, Google Mail can suggest a reply based on the content of an email we receive, they can use the same algorithms on every video and comment (okay, if that’s too much, at least on the ones uploaded by vulnerable and suspicious accounts).

Internet companies shouldn’t wait for governments to come up with regulations, they should lead it. They have the expertise, experience and the resources to do so. But the regulations shouldn’t be too stringent that hurts the growth of small businesses or kills competition. Tools like image processing, though efficient and useful, still require significant processing power that can become too expensive for small companies or independent developers.

If there’s a transparent law governing such application, delivering justice also becomes effective.

We need a community driven approach to fight online crimes against our children. It requires both a political will as well as support from the tech community.

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