Last week at SXSW, I moderated a panel on Tech Innovation to Fight Child Exploitation. We brought together Theresa Payton – former White House CIO, Founder and CEO of Fortalice Solutions, Donal Keating – Director of Innovation and Research at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, and Julie Cordua – CEO of Thorn, to discuss how technology is being used to fight child exploitation and how the public can help advance this goal.

In the U.S. in the last year, there have been over 25 million images and videos of abuse material submitted to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children for facial recognition. Those 25 million faces are in America alone…and only what was found…child sexual abuse and pornography is one of the world’s biggest hidden secrets and a growing public health crisis.

It’s a problem we can no longer ignore, and being part of the solution will take a cultural and technological shift. Technology and digital anonymity plays a role in providing these criminals with tools used to attract innocent victims, distribute illegal (and immoral) content, and collect enormous sums of money – stolen from people and through cybercrime – to fund these horrific acts. We need to acknowledge that our latest innovations and platforms WILL be used in some of the darkest ways imaginable.

Before I built two cybersecurity startups, I led the anti-fraud department at a large credit card issuer. I have seen the massive reach these criminals have. We need to acknowledge the problem at hand and act. My current company fights back through #NoPasswords4Good, an initiative that partners with communities and organizations, like Thorn and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to educate and drive adoption of technologies that dismantle cybercrime.

Participating in active dialogue, leveraging and improving on today’s technology and taking action in your own life can make a real impact. Here are few things we can do, whether you’re a technology company, a concerned parent, or anything in between:

We all need to take action

To technology companies…

  • Share data: we’ve made promises to customers we hold dear, but criminals are violating every term of use, operating across platforms to avoid detection. Law enforcement’s ability to track across technology platforms is complex and limited. We need a culture of collaboration among technology companies to share data and help track down perpetrators.
  • Delete abuse content: platforms with any user generated content – chat, images, video etc. – include child abuse content. Companies need to find it, eliminate it, and stop it from circulating. Making a proactive effort to scan your networks for abuse material stops the spread, and removes the channels that cyber criminals rely on.

To mothers and fathers…

  • Talk to your children: create an open dialogue about growing up in the digital age. Have proactive discussions about the responsibilities of posting online, what children might encounter online, and how to spot warning signs.
  • Be where they are: the grooming and recruiting of children isn’t happening on the dark web, it begins in the happy spaces of the Internet. Teach children how to navigate the Internet safely by being aware of the platforms they’re using.

To everyone…

  • Change your passwords: our stolen personal information from data breaches are being traded on the dark web, making the whole economy susceptible to supporting the same groups that are monetizing child pornography. When you use the same password across 20 or 40 different logins, your personal information is vulnerable to these criminals. Changing your passwords and using secure identity authentication software like Trusona helps prevent this.
  • Recognize the reality: we all have to acknowledge – yes, it could happen to me. In my family, company, children… part of making change is facing the problem head on.

As innovators, technology leaders, and humans we have to come together and take a stand against this issue by putting our talent, effort, and money into solving this problem. Thorn’s development of new investigative tools have already made an immense impact on law enforcement’s ability to find children faster. Discovering new ways to customize or develop technology that can aid our law enforcement is one way of committing your talents to helping end child abuse.

Trusona is about ensuring people are who they say they are on the Internet. Implementing non-static authentication measures is one step closer to eliminating access to tools used by these criminals.

We all have a role to play in ending this issue – from developing technology, to creating focused initiatives (ex. our work on #NoPasswords4Good at Trusona), to donating to those who give their time and energy to fight the bad guys (like Thorn). We can all make a difference in improving the ongoing life of survivors and help stop the spread of new victims.

Watch the “Tech Innovation to Fight Child Exploitation” Panel from SXSW 2018 below. Continue the conversation with our panelists at #Tech4Change.

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