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Catch up with the online safeguarding news stories for December, in easy to read bitesize news segments.

3rd December – Tumblr announces plans to ban all pornographic content: Tumblr announced that they would be banning all pornographic content from 17th December. The social network has previously been slack in allowing sexual content to be shared on its site. This latest move was prompted by the site’s removal from Apple’s App Store a few weeks ago, when child abuse images bypassed their filters. The network has issued new community guidelines to its 345 million account holders. Users are no longer allowed to upload images that feature genitalia and female nipples. However, posts that feature nudity considered artistic, educational or newsworthy will be assessed and may not necessarily be removed. Every image will be scanned against the industry’s database of known child sexual abuse material and any abusive material will be removed. Unfortunately, no social media site can guarantee 100% compliance.

11th December – Issues with Chatbots providing advice for children: Two chatbots have had issues when dealing with reports of sexual abuse made by children. An investigation by the BBC identified that Woebot and Wysa provided incorrect and bad information to children using the apps to seek advice. The apps provide guidance across a variety of mental health issues, such as stress, relationship issues, grief and addiction. The areas in which they failed to identify potentially harmful indicators were sexual abuse, eating disorders and drug use. Whilst users discuss their problems with a computer, both apps should signpost a person to appropriate services when a serious issue is identified. The BBC used various key phrases, which ordinarily should have raised the alarm. However, some responses were wholly inadequate and did nothing to address the issues being reported. After the BBC investigation, Wysa stated that they would introduce an update which would improve the responses. Woebot have introduced an 18+ age limit for the app.

12th December – Instagram updates its filters for eating disorders: Clearly on a roll from identifying the issues with the Chatbots, the BBC identified that some Instagram users were able to navigate their way around the sites safeguarding filters. The Beeb identified that some terms promoting eating disorders were still searchable, and that their search bar was also assisting users with spellings and phrases encouraging and glamourising such disorders. The media giant has responded by making many more terms unsearchable.

14th December – Yet another Facebook bug:  The seemingly endless issues facing Facebook continued. This time is was another software bug that exposed the photos of approximately 6.8 million users to third-party apps. This granted these apps permission to access the user’s photos, including photos on timelines and even images that were in the draft stage and not yet posted.

18th December – YouTube removes weird sexually inappropriate videos:  The media giant removed a number of videos and channels featuring Asian ‘mums’ carrying out domestic chores with their children. Not a problem in itself, but the women also intentionally flashed their underwear and acted provocatively whilst playing with the children and carry out these household jobs.  One channel had nearly 300,000 subscribers and almost 40 million views before it was shut down.

19th December – Buying drugs through social media: The online current affairs channel VICE, featured an interesting article on a report dealing with the current trend of buying drugs through social networks.  The report called ‘#Drugsforsale: An exploration of the use of social media and encrypted messaging apps to supply and access drugs’, looks at the benefits and pitfalls of buying drugs via sites such as WhatsApp, Wickr, Tinder and Kik. Snapchat and Instagram were the most used apps.

20th December – Teenagers hacking Fortnite, earn thousands a week: Children as young as 14 are stealing the private gaming accounts of Fortnite players and reselling them online. The young hackers can earn thousands of pounds a week, depending on the number of in-game purchase the hacked account contains. They ‘lock out’ the account holder and then sell off the in-game purchases to other gamers. Epic, the makers of Fortnite declined to comment.

20th December – WhatsApp fails to remove child sex abuse videos: Two online safety charities based in Israel carried out an investigation into WhatsApp. Over several months they identified large groups of people sharing videos and images of child sexual abuse on the messaging app. The charities identified over 250 users through usernames, tags or profile images which they say easily signalled the intent of the users (to share child sexual abuse images). However, whilst the charities identified them with ease, WhatsApp failed to detect the illegal content. Even after being warned it took WhatsApp several days before the group was shut down.

28th December – Advertising placed in child sex abuse discovery apps: Facebook and Google’s automated advertising technology, inserted adverts for major brands into six apps that allow users to search WhatsApp for groups involved in child sexual abuse. Linking well-known brands to these apps is embarrassing for the companies concerned. The brands advertised were Amazon, Microsoft, Sprite, Dyson and Western Union. They were available in Google’s Play Store but since being alerted to the problem, Google has removed the apps from its store.

Thanks for reading.

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