18 votes

The Internet Is Overrun With Images of Child Sexual Abuse. What Went Wrong?

15 comments

  1. [2]
    pallas
    Link
    Much of this article appears to actually be about a dysfunctional investigative system in the US for child sexual abuse. However, I think it's important when looking at numbers and data to always...

    Much of this article appears to actually be about a dysfunctional investigative system in the US for child sexual abuse. However, I think it's important when looking at numbers and data to always consider what the data actually refer to, how the numbers were obtained, and how they are linked to what you actually want to know. Otherwise, you can end up making profound misinterpretations and incorrect conclusions.

    Unfortunately, like most journalism, this article does not do a good job of explaining the numbers it presents. I was initially shocked by the 45m images in one year number, assuming that they were referring to unique images. Yet later, when pointing out that a single message might contain multiple images, it seemed more likely that they were referring to instances of images, and that, for reports, it appears they were referring to automated reports that could be as granular as individual messages. In that case, while it would be extreme, 2,000 people sharing 10,000 unique images could easily generate more than 18m messages with more than 45m instances of images in them.

    It's important to understand how these numbers---the number of criminals and victims involved, and the number of reports---relate, because they are important for perspective and approach. If the crimes are actually a relatively small part of the population sharing images very frequently, that could be approached by individual investigations well. Yet while it seems like it must be a profound misinterpretation of the data, consider the suggestion of the police in New Jersey, that 400,000 people of a population of 9,000,000 could be arrested. Unless the suggestion is that paedophiles prefer living in New Jersey, that would seem to suggest that more than 5% of people are implicated, that more than 5% of the population enjoys child sexual abuse. If that's actually the case, the conversation needs to be very different than simply going after individual criminals, and needs to involve serious questions about humanity and our culture.

    As for the exponential increase in reports (which actually appears to be exponential), that could be good and bad in ways unrelated to the actual abuse and images. It could mean that those involved are increasingly sharing images online rather than offline, and it could mean that, in line with cultural shifts toward services like Spotify or Pandora rather than storing music, they are increasingly relying on online availability of images rather than storing them. It could also mean that detection systems are becoming more widely implemented and better at detection. If these are reasons for the increased numbers of reports, it could arguably be a good thing, as it would mean that more people are being discovered who would otherwise not have been.

    It could also mean that haphazardly built automated systems are generating disorganized masses of reports. If Facebook, for example, is generating and sending a separate report for every message it flags, that's far less useful than, say, reports that compile messages in a conversation, or messages between two users, adding individual messages to them. It's easy, in our recent obsession with mass data, to end up with masses of useless data, or data that by its mass is so overwhelming as to become useless.

    35 votes
    1. callmedante
      Link Parent
      Thank you for providing some perspective on these numbers. They are overwhelming and sickening, especially without the context that you provided, even if it's hypothetical. I'll keep this in mind...

      Thank you for providing some perspective on these numbers. They are overwhelming and sickening, especially without the context that you provided, even if it's hypothetical. I'll keep this in mind and find a time to mention it to my spouse. We're both just a little rocked by this article, so your comment goes a long way towards adjusting my outlook. (It also reminds me that I need to finish reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling.)

      5 votes
  2. [7]
    DanBC
    Link
    What went wrong? A bunch of people who are placed to take action just don't care. You see it on HN any time images of child sexual abuse are discussed: there's always a few people parroting the...

    What went wrong? A bunch of people who are placed to take action just don't care. You see it on HN any time images of child sexual abuse are discussed: there's always a few people parroting the NAMBLA lines of "is it really that harmful" or "if the photo has already been taken what's the harm?"

    RMS recently stepped down from some, but not all, his positions for his comments about Minsky, but he's previously said he doesn't think images of child sexual abuse should be illegal and that's a very common view in SV and tech companies.

    People might be interested in the Internet Watch Foundation. If you accidentally find these images you can report them to IWF. https://www.iwf.org.uk/

    14 votes
    1. [6]
      Adys
      Link Parent
      Please source your claims. I've seen Stallman say a lot of creepy shit but not that.

      he's previously said he doesn't think images of child sexual abuse should be illegal

      Please source your claims. I've seen Stallman say a lot of creepy shit but not that.

      1 vote
      1. [3]
        clone1
        Link Parent
        https://stallman.org/archives/2011-may-aug.html#29_August_2011_(Child_Pornography_Bill) He says that censorship is worse than child pornography here. It's not a direct endorsement but I think most...

        https://stallman.org/archives/2011-may-aug.html#29_August_2011_(Child_Pornography_Bill)

        He says that censorship is worse than child pornography here. It's not a direct endorsement but I think most people would agree that censoring child porn is right.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          Crespyl
          Link Parent
          At the risk of "defending child porn", and with the (theoretically unnecessary) disclaimer that I absolutely agree that it should be prosecuted, pursued, and taken down; there are a lot of...

          At the risk of "defending child porn", and with the (theoretically unnecessary) disclaimer that I absolutely agree that it should be prosecuted, pursued, and taken down; there are a lot of insidious and overreaching tools that are promoted in the name of protecting children.

          There's a lot of room between state-level IP packet filtering/content hash blacklists/clipper-chip style tools and "we don't allow child pornography and will pursue and prosecute those involved in its production and distribution."

          While I disagree with some of RMS' premises, I think he does have some valid points. We have a lot of legal tools to use in the effort to protect children, but it remains important to be mindful of giving the state even more technical powers that are so ripe for abuse in other areas.

          5 votes
          1. DanBC
            Link Parent
            Images of child sexual abuse.

            At the risk of "defending child porn",

            Images of child sexual abuse.

            2 votes
      2. DanBC
        Link Parent
        https://stallman.org/archives/2012-jul-oct.html#15_September_2012_%28Censorship_of_child_pornography%29 Falkvinge's argument is beyond stupid, and RMS's support of it follows other comments he's...

        https://stallman.org/archives/2012-jul-oct.html#15_September_2012_%28Censorship_of_child_pornography%29

        Rick Falkvinge joins me in demanding an end to the censorship of "child pornography", and points out that if in the US you observe the rape of a child, making a video or photo to use as evidence would subject you to a greater penalty than the rapist

        Falkvinge's argument is beyond stupid, and RMS's support of it follows other comments he's made where he thinks child sexual abuse isn't so bad.

        3 votes
      3. DanBC
        Link Parent
        Actually, he's made dozens of posts about this. RMS has made a few comments saying that images of child sexual abuse should not be illegal....

        Actually, he's made dozens of posts about this.

        RMS has made a few comments saying that images of child sexual abuse should not be illegal.

        https://stallman.org/archives/2012-jul-oct.html#15_September_2012_%28Censorship_of_child_pornography%29

        Rick Falkvinge joins me in demanding an end to the censorship of "child pornography", and points out that if in the US you observe the rape of a child, making a video or photo to use as evidence would subject you to a greater penalty than the rapist.

        The article does not mention that it's common practice for teenagers to exchange nude photos with their lovers, and they all potentially could be imprisoned for this. A substantial fraction of them are actually prosecuted.

        https://stallman.org/archives/2003-may-aug.html

        The nominee is quoted as saying that if the choice of a sexual partner were protected by the Constitution, "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia" also would be. He is probably mistaken, legally--but that is unfortunate. All of these acts should be legal as long as no one is coerced. They are illegal only because of prejudice and narrowmindedness.

        Some rules might be called for when these acts directly affect other people's interests. For incest, contraception could be mandatory to avoid risk of inbreeding. For prostitution, a license should be required to ensure prostitutes get regular medical check-ups, and they should have training and support in insisting on use of condoms. This will be an advance in public health, compared with the situation today.

        https://stallman.org/archives/2006-mar-jun.html#05%20June%202006%20%28Dutch%20paedophiles%20form%20political%20party%29

        Dutch pedophiles have formed a political party to campaign for legalization.
        [Reference updated on 2018-04-25 because the old link was broken.]

        I am skeptical of the claim that voluntarily pedophilia harms children. The arguments that it causes harm seem to be based on cases which aren't voluntary, which are then stretched by parents who are horrified by the idea that their little baby is maturing.

        https://stallman.org/archives/2017-mar-jun.html

        In the US, people convicted for having copies of child pornography tend to get longer prison sentences than those convicted of having sex with children.

        Mere possession of child pornography should not be a crime at all. To prosecute people for possessing something published, no matter what it may be, is a big threat to human rights.

        https://stallman.org/archives/2011-may-aug.html

        "Child" pornography is being used as an excuse to threaten all American internet users' privacy.

        The term "child pornography" is dishonest. The censorship of it puts young lovers in direct danger of prosecution.

        Many published works are disgusting, but censorship is more so. In the Internet, enforcement of censorship puts other rights in danger.

        Please support demandprogress.org's campaign against this bill.

        There are loads of these. Stallman takes a hardline anti-Censorship view, and he sees any prohibition on possession or distribution of images of child sexual abuse as censorship.

        His argument about criminalising children who share images of themselves with other children has a simple fix: stop prosecuting children for doing stupid shit.

  3. callmedante
    Link
    The proliferation of child sexual abuse material on the internet is horrifying, and I had no idea the problem was as massive as it is. This article was illuminating, especially through its use of...

    The proliferation of child sexual abuse material on the internet is horrifying, and I had no idea the problem was as massive as it is. This article was illuminating, especially through its use of graphics at the beginning to illustrate the scope of the problem. It also prompted a discussion with my spouse about the use of encryption in messengers (and broadly online).

    Content warning: this article does contain descriptions of child sexual abuse material, although no photos of said material.

    9 votes
  4. [5]
    Bullmaestro
    Link
    This really puts Tumblr's recent porn ban into perspective. Apple's removal of the app from their App Store wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to one child abuse image found. It's clear that Tumblr and...

    Most tech companies have been quick to respond to urgent inquiries, but responses in other cases vary significantly. In interviews, law enforcement officials pointed to Tumblr, a blogging and social networking site with 470 million users, as one of the most problematic companies.

    A recent investigation in Polk County, Wis., that included an image of a man orally raping a young child stalled for over a year. The investigator retired before Tumblr responded to numerous emails requesting information.

    This really puts Tumblr's recent porn ban into perspective. Apple's removal of the app from their App Store wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to one child abuse image found. It's clear that Tumblr and Yahoo couldn't give a crap about the sheer amount of dodgy content being posted on their platform.

    Multiple police investigations over the past few years have broken up enormous dark web forums, including one known as Child’s Play that was reported to have had over a million user accounts.

    This is one reason why I will never touch Tor. There is so much illicit stuff going on in the dark web that anybody with even more than a passing interest in the software will end up on a NSA watchlist.

    That being said, I wonder how investigators track down the operators of sites such as Child's Play, given all the proxies, VPNs, encryption and other security measures these people take.

    3 votes
    1. Diff
      Link Parent
      Except even with the ban they're doing nothing. They implemented a few half hearted filters that seem to be completely inactive at the moment. Porn blogs are continuing on as if nothing happened,...

      Except even with the ban they're doing nothing. They implemented a few half hearted filters that seem to be completely inactive at the moment. Porn blogs are continuing on as if nothing happened, I keep hearing that the "MAP" parts of Tumblr didn't even blink. All that happened was that they eliminated half their existing content (much of it not even porn) and 60% of their user base, for nothing.

      2 votes
    2. [2]
      Micycle_the_Bichael
      Link Parent
      This is an old article and isn't directly about child porn but it is a really interesting read on how the Silk Road creator founded and built Silk Road, and how government agencies eventually...

      This is an old article and isn't directly about child porn but it is a really interesting read on how the Silk Road creator founded and built Silk Road, and how government agencies eventually caught him. I say it directly because while it isn't about child porn, there was definitely child porn (and also sex trafficking) happening on the Silk Road and they do touch on that.

      2 votes
      1. Bullmaestro
        Link Parent
        In other words, it was Ross Ulbricht's carelessness about his online identity, security flaws within his website, his personal security and his trust towards complete strangers that sank the site....

        In other words, it was Ross Ulbricht's carelessness about his online identity, security flaws within his website, his personal security and his trust towards complete strangers that sank the site. And to think that if he actually fled the US to a jurisdiction that had no extradition treaty, he would have probably eluded a double life sentence.

        The FBI got incredibly lucky with catching him.

        1 vote
    3. DanBC
      Link Parent
      OpSec is hard, and law enforcement have some big resources they can make use of. Sometimes offenders will move from online only offences to contact offences, and they'll get caught and police will...

      I wonder how investigators track down the operators of sites such as Child's Play, given all the proxies, VPNs, encryption and other security measures these people take.

      OpSec is hard, and law enforcement have some big resources they can make use of.

      Sometimes offenders will move from online only offences to contact offences, and they'll get caught and police will then have access to their computers. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-48880997

      Sometimes they are prolific offenders and they make a small slip, and well funded government agencies can use that: (this link contains distressing descriptions of the abuse) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-42921977

      1 vote