Home secretary backs development of anti-online grooming tool

Sajid Javid and Microsoft host hackathon to create program that will be rolled out to tech firms for free

Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Home secretary Sajid Javid is supporting the development of a tool to combat online child grooming that will be provided for free to SME technology firms.

On a trip to the US last week, Javid teamed up with Microsoft to host a two-day hackathon event in which developers worked to create tools that could spot potential instances of online child grooming. During the gathering, programmers from companies including Facebook, Google, Snap, and Twitter “analysed tens of thousands of conversations to understand patterns used by predators”.

By the end of the event – which was hosted at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, near Seattle – participants had created a prototype of a tool that can detect these patterns. Further development of the program will take place over the coming weeks. Once a finished version has been delivered, the intention is that the tool will “be licensed free of charge to smaller and medium-sized technology companies worldwide”, according to the government.

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Javid said: “We all have a responsibility to tackle online child sexual exploitation, and the new tool developed during the hackathon is a positive step forward.”

During his time in the US, the Home Secretary held meetings with a number of large technology companies to discuss what they are doing to combat online child sexual exploitation. These discussions came alongside a raft of measures announced by the government last week, including the establishment of a taskforce – chaired by Javid – to tackle criminals’ access to online advertising revenue.

Other measures included “new tools to improve the capabilities of the Child Abuse Image Database” run by law enforcement, as well as the launch of a £250,000 funding pot for organisations to develop technology that can halt live streaming of abuse.

Sam Trendall

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