Advertising could be fuelling online child abuse, Home Secretary warns

Advertising could be fuelling the sexual exploitation of children online, the Home Secretary has warned.

Sajid Javid has ordered expert analysis into the issue as part of the Government’s efforts to counter the threat posed by paedophiles on the internet.

Officials say adverts for legitimate products, including from well-known brands, are appearing on sites hosting child abuse.

Ministers have commissioned the Internet Watch Foundation to carry out research into the scale of the problem.

A porn search typed into Google
A porn search typed into Google

Announcing the measure ahead of meetings in the US with tech bosses, Mr Javid said: “Keeping our children safe is my mission as Home Secretary and it is vital tech companies take their responsibility seriously.

“I have demanded action and will be discussing the progress industry has made during my visit to the US – as well as seeing the latest tools being developed to detect online child grooming.

“This Government is leading the response against these sickening crimes.

“I’ve commissioned new research to look at how advertising is fuelling the sexual exploitation of children online and I am providing further funding for schemes to tackle the live-streaming of abuse.”

Earlier this year, Mr Javid warned that some abuse websites are generating a profit through advertisements by legitimate companies without their knowledge.

As well as the IWF research, the Home Secretary will chair a new taskforce to bring together representatives from ad agencies, trade bodies and brands to discuss steps to stop criminals having access to the revenue stream.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said it has been asked to provide data to “explore how legitimate advertisers are being exploited by offenders, intent on sharing horrific imagery of child sexual abuse online”.

She added: “Using a variety of sophisticated techniques to avoid detection, offenders are exploiting online advertising networks to monetise their distribution of child sexual abuse material.”

Mr Javid will hold meetings in Silicon Valley to assess the progress tech giants are making in eradicating online child sexual exploitation.

He will also visit Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to convene a “hackathon” in which experts will work to come up with tools to detect online child grooming.

The visit comes weeks after Mr Javid described his shock at discovering the scale of the danger posed by paedophiles on the internet.

In a speech in September he disclosed that the National Crime Agency estimates that around 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to children online.

Referrals of child abuse images to the NCA have surged by 700% in the last five years, while separate figures suggest police in England and Wales record 25 child sexual offences involving the internet every day on average.