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New online safety app ‘could lower demand for child sexual abuse content’

An EU and UK-backed project will launch in March to develop an app designed to detect child sexual abuse material.
An EU and UK-backed project will launch in March to develop an app designed to detect child sexual abuse material. An EU and UK-backed project will launch in March to develop an app designed to detect child sexual abuse material.

A new online safety app that could help reduce the viewing and demand for child sexual abuse content is to be developed by EU and UK experts.

Project Protech will launch in March to create an app called Salus – named after the Roman goddess of safety and well-being – which is capable of detecting child sexual abuse content in real time on the user’s device by using machine learning.

The experts behind the project say the app could be installed onto the devices of individuals at risk of accessing child abuse content, automatically detecting and blocking it, which they say would help stem the demand for such content online.

The £1.8 million project is being funded by the European Commission and led by a university hospital in Berlin, but the app is being created by UK tech firm SafeToNet.

To help design the app, researchers from the project will investigate why offenders begin viewing sexual images of children and what could help them stop.

It will then use volunteer participants to test the app.

The researchers say the app’s uniqueness lies in its detection capabilities, which they say could provide effective intervention to individuals who fear they might offend against children.

They say it could be a vital tool for the long-term prevention of child sexual abuse content by working alongside current prevention methods.

“We are excited to provide the technical expertise on such a critical project,” Tom Farrell, SafeToNet’s chief operating officer, said.

“We believe that at the moment, technical prevention has a huge role to play in tackling the consumption and demand for child sexual abuse material.”

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) – Europe’s largest hotline dedicated to finding and removing child sexual abuse images and videos from the internet – is also supporting the project.

“Sadly, the demand for images and videos of children being sexually abused is unceasing,” IWF chief technology officer, Dan Sexton, said.

“In 2022, the IWF removed more than 255,000 URLs from the internet which contained confirmed child sexual abuse material.

“But we know that finding and removing this horrendous content is not enough in the ongoing, global fight to stop the sexual abuse of children, which is why we are glad to play our role in this project to train and test software which could prove vital in lowering the demand for the criminal material in the first place.

“By collaborating with expert organisations in the EU and the UK we are ensuring that the intended impact for this project is as far-reaching as possible to help children around the world.”