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

1st October – China’s most popular video game, trials facial recognition in age verification tests:  Honour of Kings, one of China’s most popular fantasy video games is testing the use of facial recognition to check users’ ages. The trial is aimed at new players based in certain parts of China. This followed criticism that the game was addictive to Chinese children. The game producers Tencent, had previously introduced restrictions, limiting under-12s to one hour of gameplay a day and 13 to 18-year-olds to a maximum of two hours. Bowing to further pressure the game company has now introduced the age recognition feature for new online players. However, the tests will not apply to all, with the trial only selecting random players. Tencent is keeping quiet on the technology they are using in the pilot and it remains to be seen if facial technology used as a safeguarding tool, will actually work or resourceful children will find a way of ‘gaming’ the system.

4th October – Calls for Facebook to be more transparent about how many online child abusers it identifies: The NSPCC called for the social media giant to be more transparent amid claims in America that it is being used to lure children into being trafficked and sexually exploited. The NSPCC said that Facebook and other social media firms should be forced by the UK government through legislation to publish how many child abusers it identifies online, so that the full scale of the problem can be measured. Currently social media platforms are under no obligation to report on this information. Facebook have not responded.

5th – Substantial number of Facebook users accounts hacked: Facebook revealed that a number of accounts had been hacked. Initially the media company said that it feared that 50 million users had been affected. That figured was subsequently reduced to 30m before Facebook announced that 14 million of its users had had highly personal information stolen by the hackers. Compromised information included: username, date of birth, gender, hometown, education, employment, relationship status, pages and people followed, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, and their 15 most recent searches. When asked, Facebook said they would not be providing the victims of the hack with any identity fraud protection. Potentially if the accounts affected are people from the European Union, then the media platform could be fined up to £1.25bn for the breach of security under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

5th October – Calls for website ‘PunterNet’ to be closed down:  An online petition has called for the closure of a website PunterNet. Described as a TripAdvisor for prostitutes, the site allows its users to post reviews and recommendations about sex workers. Users can post their anonymous recommendations, along with descriptions around looks, services offered and costs, as well as passing on the sex workers phone number. The originator of the petition claims that the site contains evidence of underage and trafficked girls, self-harm and violence against the women, including descriptions amounting to serious sexual assaults. The website denied these allegations.

5th October – Facebook responds to US lawsuit on human trafficking:  In the US the social media giant denied claims contained within a lawsuit, which claims it doesn’t don’t do enough to protect its users from human traffickers. It highlighted its safeguarding policies, work with other agencies to combat trafficking and their use of technology to identify inappropriate content quickly. The lawsuit involves a woman who is suing Facebook saying that as 15-years old she was befriended by a man on the media site who lured her into and exploited her in the sex trade. Her argument is that Facebook didn’t do enough to verify the user’s identity or provide sufficient warning that traffickers use the site. This may well be a test case and it will be interesting to see what comes from it, if there isn’t an out of court settlement.

6th October – How many real friends do you have?: A new survey of 2,000 internet users, revealed that the average Brit has more than 500 online friends but only five of those are considered to be real trusted and close friends.

 10th October – New anti-bullying feature introduced on Instagram: The social media giant announced the introduction of a new anti-bullying specific algorithm to filter out offensive content. This targets both photos and captions. Once a potential offensive post is identified, then it is passed to their review team to decide whether it should be removed.

15th October – Trojan malware disguises itself as Google Play Store: A new trojan malware app nicknamed ‘GPlayed’, has been disguised as Google Play Store. When downloaded it installs malware that will steal personal information from a user’s device, including bank details. It can be found on websites that do not use the official Google Play Store to sell their apps.

23rd October – Mobile app data sharing rife: Research by the University of Oxford has revealed that an incredibly high number (88%) of free apps available on Google Play Store share data with Google parent company Alphabet. These apps will track your online behaviour and this digital profile is then ‘shared’ with other companies, which use it for various reasons including targeted you for advertising. The research showed that nearly 43% of apps shared data with Facebook. Other companies included Amazon and Microsoft. Google stated that they had clear policies on how developers and third-party apps should handle data and that they would take action where they found this to be breached.

24th October – 8.7m child nudity images removed by Facebook: Facebook announced that their moderators had had removed 8.7 million possible child nudity images in a 3-month period. The company highlighted new software which automatically flags up any potential sexualised images of children. They said that 99% of the images were taken down by their moderators before any Facebook user had reported them. Facebook also claimed that other software had the potential to identify possible instances of child grooming. The NSPCC repeated claims earlier in the month stating that Facebook (and other providers) needed to more transparent and identify how many user accounts they were aware of that may be responsible for grooming and sexual exploitation of children. The children’s charity called for government regulation which would force social networks to publish transparency reports on the harms faced by children on their platforms.

 30th October – Under-5s targeted with deceptive advertisement: A report by the University of Michigan’s Medical School, claimed that under-fives are being systematically targeted by app-based ads which are often “manipulative, inappropriate or deceptive”. The study identified that the majority of free and paid-for apps had forms of money making advertising aimed at the children. Many of the free apps were designed in such a way that they unfairly enticed young users to want to upgrade to the paid version. Many of these involved popular kids’ characters. Another issue were popular characters showing disappointed facial expressions when a child chose not to unlock paid for items within the app, in effect making the child feel guilty and putting pressure on parents. Other characters would tell the child how the paid version is much better than the free one, whilst several of the adds featured bannered advertisement that were not suitable for under-5s. In response Google Play Story issued a statement highlighting their safeguarding rules and ‘Designed for Families Programme’. They also pointed out that any app available in their store carries a disclosure as to whether an app contains advertising or in-app purchases. The study did not include available in iOS.

Thanks for reading.

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