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An independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) in the UK has criticized web companies for caring more about their reputation than about protecting children from harm. 

The IICSA’s report, published today, is the result of 247 days of public and preliminary hearings involving 505 witnesses and the examination of over 4,500 accounts of child sexual abuse.

The 114-page report found that “industry has failed to do all it can to prevent access to images of child sexual abuse” and concluded that material should be pre-screened for abusive content before it is placed on the internet. 

Far from being difficult to obtain, indecent images of children were found to be accessible online “from common search engines in only three clicks.”

When it came to preventing child sexual abuse, big hitters Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were criticized for taking a seemingly reactive approach motivated by protecting their reputations rather than kids’ safety.

An IICSA spokesperson said: “The Inquiry repeatedly heard evidence from industry witnesses that their respective companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were committed to trying to prevent online-facilitated child sexual abuse. The response was, at times, reactive and seemingly motivated by the desire to avoid reputational damage caused by adverse media reporting.

“For example, the report questions why Facebook did not sooner deploy a tool vital to the efforts to prevent access to child sexual abuse imagery.”

The report went on to highlight weaknesses in online age-verification processes that leave children vulnerable to being groomed by sexual predators and cajoled into sending self-generated sexual imagery. 

“Although industry companies either prohibit or discourage children under 13 years old from accessing their platforms or services, the age verification process can be often easily subverted—simply by inputting a false date of birth,” stated the IICSA.

The inquiry found that industry has failed to demonstrate awareness of the scale of underage use, and called on internet companies to do more to identify the true scale of offending.

Web companies were criticized for releasing selective transparency reports and “only telling the public what the organization wants and thinks the public should know.”

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