#WeProtect Children Online Global Summit: Baroness Shields' speech

Baroness Joanna Shields spoke to delegates about the work government is doing with industry to help protect children.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Baroness Joanna Shields speech to delegates at the #WeProtect children online summit 11 December 2014.


Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you all for accepting our invitation to participate in #WeProtect and for joining us in a global commitment to protect the safety of children in the digital world.

We’re here today to take global action on one of the most complex, the most alarming, and the most challenging issues that we face as a society. Everyone in this room agrees that stopping the rise of online child abuse and exploitation is an urgent priority.

The big question is: are there more innovative ways to go about it? And for me, coming at this after 25 years of building global tech companies, and now as an adviser to government and the Prime Minister, I believe that there is a better way.

This isn’t about more laws or more regulation. It’s about harnessing the power of innovation. It’s about working together with the best brains in the tech industry and pioneering new ways of making the Internet safer for children.

Too often in the past, the dialogue between government and leading tech companies has leapt from crisis to crisis. In every interaction, you have on one side, government officials with a toolkit of new rules and regulations to try to make the internet safer. On the other side, you have members of the tech industry with an army of government affairs and risk advisers trying to limit government interference.

In this environment, its no surprise that not enough progress has been made. Well, the way I see it, this isn’t a simple choice between freedom and control. It’s about a new kind of partnership between technology companies and government. A partnership that protects but also empowers.

To do this, we need to change the mindset of government – but also the mindset of industry. Technology is challenging the way we live and interact with each other. It’s disrupting and transforming our lives in so many ways. The pace of change is so fast that it’s hard to keep up – and in an atmosphere of the unknown, the strong instinct of government is to regulate and control. But that in the end is never going to achieve the results we need.

So what I’m saying is this:

Surely it’s better to empower those who create these great platforms and products to come up with the ideas and solutions we need? Tackling this issue isn’t about some kind of nanny state intervention. We all believe in a free and open internet and its power to transform society. This is about doing the right thing and stopping illegal activity. And frankly, it’s no longer an option to play the cool start-up.

It’s time to own the responsibilities that come along with success. And I am happy to say that many good companies are rising to the challenge. After all, these are innocent and vulnerable children we’re talking about protecting. And for them, we have to find a better and a smarter way of working together to solve problems. That’s what WeProtect is all about.

What we have here today is a new alliance between business and government. A new alliance for good…

…one which preserves and protects the internet as a safe place for our children…

…a platform to learn, to create, to dream and to fulfil their potential.

And so what I want to do now is talk about 3 key things.

First, I want to explain why I believe WeProtect and our collective agreement to the global statement of action is so important.

Second, I’m going to talk about what we’ve done so far.

And finally, I’d like to share a bit about what we’ll be doing next.

Why it matters

Let me start though by going back to the beginning, and reiterating what the Home Secretary and the other expert speakers before me have said.

The simple truth is that something really appalling is happening. The statistics speak for themselves. Here in the UK, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre now receives on average 1,600 reports a month relating to child sexual exploitation.Recently, the US National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children revealed that they reviewed 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child pornography.

What’s more, it saddens me beyond belief that 19% of the offenders had images of children younger than 3 years old on their devices…

….39% of them had images of children under 6 years old…

…and 83% of them had images of children aged under 12.

Now the way I think about this is not a tech industry professional but as a mother.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve been lucky enough to help build some of the world’s largest tech companies, from Google and Facebook to Bebo and AOL.

But if my child had been the victim of this kind of abuse or exploitation - let me tell you, there’s no mountain I wouldn’t move to track down the perpetrators and stop these vile things from happening to anyone else.

But the key question is how to harness the power of technology to fight these horrific crimes. Over the last few years, we’ve seen some great examples of how the tech industry can innovate to help tackle these problems.

For example, we’ve seen the impact of Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology that helps find and remove images of child sexual abuse wherever they appear on the web. We’ve also seen Google alter its search algorithm to prevent child sexual abuse images and video from appearing in their results and breaking links to peer to peer networks which house this illegal material. Microsoft too implemented changes in Bing to prevent people accessing child abuse imagery. And Visa, Mastercard and others have also worked to eradicate the purchase of child abuse imagery through mainstream payment systems. But the truth is that, despite these massive contributions, the exploitation and crime is still on the rise.

That’s partly because for every measure taken, the perpetrators use new tools to change course and evade detection. So to win this battle, we have no choice but to be faster, more nimble and more innovative than they are.

How WeProtect started

That’s why we need a new kind of cooperation between industry, law enforcement, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government. And this collaboration has to be cross-border and genuinely international. That’s where WeProtect comes in.

So let me take you through the journey we have been on.In the summer of 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron brought together a coalition of internet service providers and internet platform companies, and set them this challenge: to enlist their brightest minds and ask them to work out how we can stop online abuse and exploitation.

And then last November, the Prime Minister and the President of the United States agreed to set up a joint UK-US task force to counter these crimes. The result of this inter-government, inter-industry approach– is that we’ve made genuine progress this year.

In May 2014, the technology industry came together in a ground-breaking industry developer forum. Technical experts representing 48 of the world’s leading tech companies collaborated with academia and subject matter experts to develop new approaches for protecting children. And in particular, we focused on 2 things:

  • the growing problems of sharing child sexual abuse images and videos online
  • and adults interacting with children for sexual purposes online

As a result of our collaboration, we’ve already made positive changes, and none of it would have been possible without many of the people in this room.

What we are doing

This afternoon, we will be presenting 4 of the solutions developed as part of the WeProtect developer forum.

  1. The first is a new tool for law enforcement officers, which uses facial recognition and web crawling technology to speed up analysis of child sex abuse images to identify victims and to get them help and support. The concept, developed by IBM and Getty Images and other companies, will help law enforcement officers around the world to strengthen and improve their efforts to identify victims of online sexual abuse.

  2. Second, you will be hearing from Dell and Visa Europe who have worked together to develop a system that helps young people assess risk and make more informed decisions about the people they talk to online. Put simply, the new system “scores” online interactions and provides an on-the-spot risk rating to help young people make better, safer decisions about who they interact with online.

  3. You will also be hearing from Microsoft about a system they are developing for young people to report and block self-generated indecent images. This is becoming an increasingly common issue. As you heard earlier today, offenders can use these images to blackmail and coerce young people into sexual activity. This new reporting system will provide young people with a mechanism to halt this exploitation, and take control of their own safety online.

  4. Fourth, you will be hearing from Facebook about the work they are doing to identify victims and apprehend offenders, and how sharing knowledge and expertise can help everyone to stay one step ahead of the crime.

In every case, these initiatives won’t just protect children in one country or another; they will help protect children all over the world. And the good people who worked on these projects did so on their own time and with the generous support of their companies and we are most grateful to them.

But of course there is more we must do.


And that brings me to the final thing I want to say.

Last month I had the privilege of delivering my maiden speech in the House of Lords on the 25th Anniversary of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That Convention requires that states act in the best interest of every child. Yet technology recognises no state borders or boundaries.

Today, the most popular Internet platforms reach more people every day than there are in any nation. To put that in context, Facebook has 1.4 billion monthly active users and China has 1.4 billion citizens. This new reality requires new ways of working and a new paradigm of collaboration between the industry, NGOs and governments around the world. The simple truth is that every child born today has the potential to dream, invent and amaze the world, but they must be able to do so creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly.

By working across national borders and using the skills of our best and brightest we can guarantee children the future that they deserve and secure their safety in the digital world.

Thank you.

Published 11 December 2014