PLDT, Smart begin blocking on content level, upping war vs online child abuse

The fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) has stepped up a notch, with PLDT and Smart launching content-level blocking.

Because of the business’ current membership in the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), they now have access to 5,800 URLs containing child sex abuse content, which they have blocked during the last week. This is on top of the 3,000 websites they had blocked access to before joining the IWF.

PLDT, the Philippines’ largest fully integrated telco, and its wireless affiliate Smart are now the only telecom firms in the country with the ability to block up to the content level, keeping children safe and preventing internet abusers from exploiting youngsters.

The IWF, situated in the United Kingdom, is an important part of PLDT and Smart’s child protection platform. The platform checks the illicit content that consumers are trying to access against the company’s database using various technologies. It can restrict access to a single file rather than a whole website. This is especially beneficial for preventing the distribution of sexually explicit materials depicting children on lawful domains.

“When our customers try to open offensive content, they are immediately brought to a landing page telling them that the material violates Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Law,” explained Angel Redoble, Chief Information Security Officer at PLDT and Smart.   

The child protection platform, which was launched in the first quarter of this year, allows PLDT and Smart to block child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) in two ways: at the domain level and, now, with IWF membership, at the content level.

“When a child abuse content finds its way into a legitimate domain like social media platforms or video-sharing sites, we can’t block the entire web page because that will prevent all our customers from accessing materials on that domain that are not related to OSAEC,” said Redoble.  

The difficulty lies in preventing illegal materials from making their way into legitimate domains. Because the legislation in the Philippines prohibits internet service providers from actively sifting through data that passes through their network, PLDT and Smart use open-source threat intelligence, acquire commercial threat intelligence, and rely on law enforcement authorities to send links to child abuse materials that have been put on the internet.

This is where the benefit of an IWF membership comes into play. The IWF is a non-profit organization backed by the global internet industry. The European Commission works with national law enforcement agencies, internet service providers and platforms, and charitable groups to remove webpages, keywords, hash lists, and digital fingerprints that include child abuse materials.

In addition to receiving reports from the public through its 47 reporting portals, which serve 2.4 billion people worldwide, the IWF’s highly trained analysts actively scan the internet for photographs and videos of child sexual abuse. They then collaborate with international partners to have them removed.

The IWF employs technologies to detect CSAM by comparing their unique codes or “hashes” to established blacklists.

The IWF then passes the harmful URLs to PLDT and Smart, who transform them to IP addresses that direct users to the child safety platform when they access them. The platform then redirects to the National Telecommunications Commission’s landing page, which informs the user that the content they are seeing violates Republic Act 9775, also known as the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

The IWF has developed an intelligent web crawler to browse specific parts of the internet systematically. What sets theirs apart from others, according to the organization, is that it contains over 566,000 hashes of known child sexual assault photographs.

“We can’t utilize hashes on our platform since we don’t save content,” says the developer. We don’t have any files to compare them against. We are merely a conduit for information. And we aren’t authorized by law to look into the content that travels via our network,” Redoble explained.

PLDT and Smart have received access to the IWF’s increasing database, which contains over 9,000 links to sexually explicit files starring children due to their membership.

PLDT and Smart have been able to block 3,345 web addresses associated with CSAM since then, including 34 domains and 286 IP addresses in just the second part of May. PLDT and Smart had previously blocked around 3,000 websites linked to online child abuse before allying with IWF.

PLDT and Smart have been tightening their corporate policies and linking kid protection into their broader sustainability strategy in addition to using technology solutions. The companies have recently set out their Child Safeguarding Policies and piloted the revised Mobile Operators Child Rights Impact Assessment (MO-CRIA) tool due to their relationship with UNICEF, furthering the push to manage the business impact on children aligning with global best practices for child safety.

PLDT and Smart are also working with the International Justice Mission (IJM) to assist law enforcement in the Philippines in countering OSAEC. IJM recently praised PLDT and Smart for their decision to join the IWF’s global coalition.

PLDT and Smart also launch homegrown programs like InfoTeach, CyberSmart, and Better Today to educate and empower communities on digital literacy, safety, and welfare. In addition, the corporations are sponsoring the SaferKidsPH program, which aims to equip and train communities in the battle against OSAEC.

These activities demonstrate PLDT and Smart’s commitment to UNSDG #16: promoting just, peaceful, and inclusive societies, including eliminating child abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence and torture.

Source: Smart Newsroom

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