NSPCC Criticized for Claiming Facebook Encryption Endangers Children

Facebook has recently moved to encrypt messages on its messenger app. The NSPCC argued that it will endanger children, though that argument has been criticized.

Facebook has come under fire for a lot of things in the last year or two. From privacy related issues to advertising to anti-trust probes. There is plenty of criticism to go around. One of the things Facebook did do to try and restore confidence in their privacy policy is introduce end-to-end encryption on their messaging app. It’s actually a pretty non-controversial move. While the implementation might have raised some questions in the last year or two, for a lot of people, it is a step in the right direction.

It appears that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) from the UK is not one of those “a lot of people”.

In a paywalled article on the Telegraph, the NSPCC argues that encrypting messages will endanger children by opening them up to grooming from pedophiles. From a snippet:

Facebook should not encrypt children’s messenger accounts unless it can prove the move will not put them in danger from paedophiles, the NSPCC has said.

The charity warned Facebook’s plans to encrypt its messaging services, including its Messenger app which has more than one billion users, would see the tech giant would “lose the ability” to detect grooming on its site.

The NSPCC argued that this would put the company in breach of the incoming statutory duty of care the Government is looking to impose on tech giants.

The argument shadows a more predominant argument by spy organizations who say that encryption should contain backdoors. Governments, in response, are actively considering banning effective encryption as a result of those calls.

It appears that the argument against securing everyone’s communications didn’t go unnoticed. A news editor at VPNCompare called the comments a chronic misunderstanding of how encryption works in real life. From his comments:

While it is understandable that the NSPCC wants to protect children from grooming, in taking this stance, they are guilty of following the same line of thinking that has let the UK government systematically undermine our online rights in the name of keeping us safe.

They are prioritising security over privacy. While some children are victims of grooming, the overwhelming majority are not. Is it right that they should all have their messages left open to hackers and online spies?

Their statement also suggests a chronic lack of understanding of how encryption works in practice.

If Facebook decides to encrypt Messenger, it has to encrypt everything. It cannot pick and choose which accounts are protected because they, by definition, means creating a backdoor which hackers can then exploit.

They could choose to create a children’s version of the app which is unencrypted. But it would be difficult to persuade children to use this rather than the grown-up version and the issue of everything being unencrypted still remains.

The NSPCC’s stance is effectively advocating a nanny state. But keeping children safe online is not just the responsibility of social media sites. Encryption protects children (and everyone) from a huge range of online threats.

One thing is for sure, this is certainly a rare instance where Facebook is being criticized for being too secure. It’s quite bizarre considering Facebook just recently suffered from a massive 419 telephone number data leak recently. One can only hope this is just a one off out of left field comment. After all, this is an argument that says that children need less privacy online. If anything, that is truly bizarre.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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