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Facebook reports majority of child sex abuse images in 2020, data shows

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Facebook reported more than 20 million sex abuse images in 2020 — which accounts for 93% of the total images reported around the world, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children [NCMEC].

The trend isn’t new either. Facebook also accounted for more than 15 million cyber tips out of more than 16 million in 2019. Overall, NCMEC saw a 28% increase in cyber tips in 2020 compared to 2019.

The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame, according to NCMEC. As children were stuck inside during lockdowns and using technology more for school and other activities, they became sitting ducks for those looking to exploit them.

Credit: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

“Online enticement can happen to any child using the internet,” Executive Director of NCMEC’s Exploited Children Division Lindsey Olson said in a blog post. “Offenders are very effective at grooming children, gaining their trust, isolating them from their parents and then exploiting them. Parents often think that it would ‘never’ happen to their child, but we know that is simply not true.”

Higher numbers could also be attributed to the amount of effort electronic service providers [ESP’s] — like Facebook — are putting toward identifying and removing abusive content from its platforms. Larger numbers could additionally reflect the fact that more and more people are using social media every year, NCMEC reported.

Facebook has shared its own views on the company’s effort to remove child sex abuse images from its various platforms, citing a “zero tolerance policy.”

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But why is the number so high?

Users still must wonder how a company like Facebook routinely finds millions of images, while a search engine like Google finds slightly more than 500,000. Even more so, social media platforms like Snapchat, with of 145,000 reports, and Tik Tok with a slim 22,000, pale in comparison to Facebook’s sheer numbers.

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Is Facebook a hotspot for child sex abuse images or are other companies simply under-reporting? There is no readily available data to answer the question in a satisfactory manner.

“The law just says if they become aware of it, then they have to report it. It doesn’t say how good of a job they have to do to look for it,” said Sgt. Wade Williams with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. He works within the Special Crimes Bureau and supervises internet crimes against children and human trafficking.

NCMEC 2020 Reports by Electronic Service Providers by Katherine Hamilton on Scribd

Williams’ assessment is 100% correct. 18 U.S. Code § 2258A states that ESP’s must take action and report to NCMEC as soon as they become aware of online child exploitation.

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ESP’s could furthermore feel pressure from the 2017 amendment to section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. That amendment, known as FOSTA, holds companies like Facebook personally responsible for any child sexual abuse material found on its platform.

“I think it was kind of a wakeup call for a lot of companies, and now they don’t have that immunity anymore,” Williams said. “A lot of big companies were facing a lot of criticism about how they were handling information.”

After FOSTA and an unrelated spike in the spread of violent content, companies like Facebook began hiring thousands of moderators in 2017 and 2018.

“So after they hired all these moderators, we saw a significant increase in reports from Facebook…” Williams said. His unit receives a large amount of cyber tips from NCMEC.

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We should be concerned

Facebook is undoubtedly the largest power player in Big Tech, but the question of disproportion still stands.

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While the company says most images they report are the same as previously reported content — 90% to be exact — that still leaves millions of images circulating. Millions more than every other ESP.

Whether Facebook is the Big Tech boogie man or is simply extremely proactive in its reporting, one thing is clear: the online sexual exploitation of children is growing exponentially, and it shows no signs of stopping.

“I haven’t met a kid yet that doesn’t have Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat,” Williams said. “…The most popular apps that kids are exploited on, whether it’s sex trafficking or child sexual imagery or that sort of thing are the apps that kids use, because the predators go where the kids are.”

Having open communication with children, monitoring their technology and keeping them safe from predators in real life are all proactive steps parents or guardians can take to prevent heinous crimes from occurring.

“Make it clear that it’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t trust the people out there. [Parents] should educate their kids. They don’t want the predator to be the first one to educate them,” Williams said.

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Updating Special Ad Audiences for housing, employment, and credit advertisers

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On June 21, 2022 we announced an important settlement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that will change the way we deliver housing ads to people residing in the US. Specifically, we are building into our ads system a method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

As part of this agreement, we will also be sunsetting Special Ad Audiences, a tool that lets advertisers expand their audiences for ad sets related to housing. We are choosing to sunset this for employment and credit ads as well. In 2019, in addition to eliminating certain targeting options for housing, employment and credit ads, we introduced Special Ad Audiences as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences. But the field of fairness in machine learning is a dynamic and evolving one, and Special Ad Audiences was an early way to address concerns. Now, our focus will move to new approaches to improve fairness, including the method previously announced.

What’s happening: We’re removing the ability to create Special Ad Audiences via Ads Manager beginning on August 25, 2022.

Beginning October 12th, 2022, we will pause any remaining ad sets that contain Special Ad Audiences. These ad sets may be restarted once advertisers have removed any and all Special Ad Audiences from those ad sets. We are providing a two month window between preventing new Special Ad Audiences and pausing existing Special Ad Audiences to enable advertisers the time to adjust budgets and strategies as needed.

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For more details, please visit our Newsroom post.

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Impact to Advertisers using Marketing API on September 13, 2022

For advertisers and partners using the API listed below, the blocking of new Special Ad Audience creation will present a breaking change on all versions. Beginning August 15, 2022, developers can start to implement the code changes, and will have until September 13, 2022, when the non-versioning change occurs and prior values are deprecated. Refer below to the list of impacted endpoints related to this deprecation:

For reading audience:

  • endpoint gr:get:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field operation_status

For adset creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/adsets
  • field subtype

For adset editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdCampaign
  • field subtype

For custom audience creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field subtype

For custom audience editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:CustomAudience

Please refer to the developer documentation for further details to support code implementation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Introducing an Update to the Data Protection Assessment

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Over the coming year, some apps with access to certain types of user data on our platforms will be required to complete the annual Data Protection Assessment. We have made a number of improvements to this process since our launch last year, when we introduced our first iteration of the assessment.

The updated Data Protection Assessment will include a new developer experience that is enhanced through streamlined communications, direct support, and clear status updates. Today, we’re sharing what you can expect from these new updates and how you can best prepare for completing this important privacy requirement if your app is within scope.

If your app is in scope for the Data Protection Assessment, and you’re an app admin, you’ll receive an email and a message in your app’s Alert Inbox when it’s time to complete the annual assessment. You and your team of experts will then have 60 calendar days to complete the assessment. We’ve built a new platform that enhances the user experience of completing the Data Protection Assessment. These updates to the platform are based on learnings over the past year from our partnership with the developer community. When completing the assessment, you can expect:

  • Streamlined communication: All communications and required actions will be through the My Apps page. You’ll be notified of pending communications requiring your response via your Alerts Inbox, email, and notifications in the My Apps page.

    Note: Other programs may still communicate with you through the App Contact Email.

  • Available support: Ability to engage with Meta teams via the Support tool to seek clarification on the questions within the Data Protection Assessment prior to submission and help with any requests for more info, or to resolve violations.

    Note: To access this feature, you will need to add the app and app admins to your Business Manager. Please refer to those links for step-by-step guides.

  • Clear status updates: Easy to understand status and timeline indicators throughout the process in the App Dashboard, App Settings, and My Apps page.
  • Straightforward reviewer follow-ups: Streamlined experience for any follow-ups from our reviewers, all via developers.facebook.com.

We’ve included a brief video that provides a walkthrough of the experience you’ll have with the Data Protection Assessment:

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The Data Protection Assessment elevates the importance of data security and helps gain the trust of the billions of people who use our products and services around the world. That’s why we are committed to providing a seamless experience for our partners as you complete this important privacy requirement.

Here is what you can do now to prepare for the assessment:

  1. Make sure you are reachable: Update your developer or business account contact email and notification settings.
  2. Review the questions in the Data Protection Assessment and engage with your teams on how best to answer these questions. You may have to enlist the help of your legal and information security points of contact to answer some parts of the assessment.
  3. Review Meta Platform Terms and our Developer Policies.

We know that when people choose to share their data, we’re able to work with the developer community to safely deliver rich and relevant experiences that create value for people and businesses. It’s a privilege we share when people grant us access to their data, and it’s imperative that we protect that data in order to maintain and build upon their trust. This is why the Data Protection Assessment focuses on data use, data sharing and data security.

Data privacy is challenging and complex, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving the processes to safeguard user privacy on our platform. Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to build a safer, more sustainable platform.

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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