More than 100 child protection advocates have called Facebook to stop the deployment of end-to-end encryption.
In a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the 129 organizations and experts said plans to encrypt messages could encourage more sexual abuse on the site.
Encryption would damage Facebook’s ability to identify and stop grooming behavior on its platforms and allow abusers to attack children more easily, the group says.
They asked Mr. Zuckerberg not to go ahead with the encryption plans until he could guarantee that the safety of the children would not be compromised.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 16.8 million Facebook reports in 2018, estimated to have led to the protection of 3,000 children in the United Kingdom.
But organizations say that end-to-end encryption could mean the loss of 70% of those reports, 12 million each year.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Facebook may be happy to close its eyes to the abuse, but cannot close its ears to this unanimous concern shown by international experts.
“Mark Zuckerberg has the option of allowing sexual abuse to fire on their sites or listening to those around the world asking him to reconsider how to implement encryption without putting children at risk.”
“In its current form, encryption would violate the duty of childcare on Facebook, so the UK government must ensure that a new regulator has the power to hold them financially and criminally responsible.”
The group, led by the NSPCC, includes signatories from Australia, India and the United States.
The signatories of the United Kingdom were the NSPCC, Stop It Now!, John Carr (Coalition of Children of Charities on Internet Security), Barnardo’s, 5 Rights, Coram BAAF and Kidscape.
In a blog in March, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote: “Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy, but that includes the privacy of people who do bad things. When billions of people use a service to connect, some of they are really going to use terrible things like child exploitation, terrorism and extortion.
“We are working to improve our ability to identify and stop bad actors in our applications by detecting activity patterns or by other means, even when we cannot see the content of the messages, and we will continue to invest in this work.”
“But we face inherent compensation because we will never find all the potential damage we do today when our security systems can see the messages themselves.”
In response to the letter, Facebook’s chief of security for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, David Miles said: “Strong encryption is vital to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals.
“The implementation of end-to-end encryption is a long-term project, protecting children online is vital to this effort and we are committed to incorporating strong security measures into our plans.
“We are working closely with child safety experts, including NCMEC, police, governments and other technology companies to help keep children safe online.
“We have led the industry to protect children from exploitation and we are contributing this same commitment and leadership to our encryption work.
“In recent years, we have tripled the size of our security team and now we have more than 35,000 people working to protect the people who use our platforms.”
“We also continue to invest billions in security, including artificial intelligence technology to proactively search and eliminate harmful content.”