Facebook under pressure to resume scanning messages for child abuse in EU

Social media Facebook has been urged by children’s charity NSPCC to resume a program that scanned private messages for indications of child abuse after new data emerged that suggested that almost half of referrals for child sexual abuse material are now going unnoticed.

Strict New Regulations

Recent adjustments to the European commission’s e-privacy directive, which are currently in the pipeline, obligate messaging services to adhere to strict regulations on the privacy of message data. Facebook has subsequently shut down the child protection operation, laying the blame for their decision on the directive. However, the children’s charity has faulted Facebook’s overzealous application of the law.


Andy Burrows, the charity’s head of child safety online policy said: “It’s striking that Facebook has interpreted the failure to reach agreement before Christmas as requiring them to stop scanning, when what that seems to be is a breaking of ranks from the rest of the industry.” Burrows also suggested that other big hitters in the industry such as Microsoft and Google have opted to recognize the directive differently.

Clear Risk

Noting that about 250,000 reports come from the EU each month, Burrows said that potential abusers see the reduced level of policing as an opportunity. “What’s important here is that we don’t lose sight of what this means,” he said.


“There has to be a clear risk from Facebook right now that abusers are seeing this as an opportunity to target children using Facebook services, because this is a period when most of the monitoring services are turned off,” Burrows stated.


According to data from the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there’s been a drop of 46% in referrals for child sexual abuse material coming from the EU in the first three weeks since Facebook turned off scanning. Facebook continues to operate its scanning program in the UK which is no longer covered by the directive. 


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