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UK tech companies launch online safety body

Online Safety Tech Industry Association unites 14 technology companies to drive conversation and policy around online safeguarding

A group of 14 technology companies have come together to launch a UK industry association dedicated to tackling online safety, with support and backing from the government, campaigners and charities.

The Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA) was conceived at a 2019 roundtable event exploring online harms, run by Edinburgh-based security firm Cyan Forensics and public sector startup body Public and chaired by Joanna Shields.

It has three core aims: to provide “a voice of hope” through informing policymakers, technology providers and the wider public about online safety technologies; creating and leveraging its collective influence on policy, regulation and broader support for the sector; and to provide a discussion form for online safety specialists.

The association said that up to now, the debate around online safety has been conducted largely by those who want to change things, and those who fear that changing things will cost too much or be hard to implement. It hopes to bring to the table the voices of tech companies that have, in some cases, already developed services that could help, spurring transformation.

OSTIA chairman, Cyan Forensics CEO Ian Stevenson, said: “The topic of online safety is wide-ranging and hugely complex. Unfortunately for regulators and providers, it is made up of many individual problems – there is no silver bullet that will solve the whole issue. That is why we wanted to establish this industry association – to create a powerful collective voice to enact change.

“By focusing on specific, actionable areas, we can work together to demonstrate how the thriving safety-related products and services market will play a significant role in helping companies protect the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, while driving digital growth. Together, we can ensure that the public, technology companies and policy-makers are aware of these lifelines.”

The association launches at a critical time for online safety around the world during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, particularly as it relates to the safety of children online. Earlier in April 2020, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said online child sexual abuse was likely to rise significantly during the pandemic, while Interpol has seen increased online activity by paedophiles seeking child sexual abuse material in the past few weeks.

To this end, it has already received backing from the government, and from organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Digital minister Caroline Dinenage said: “We are determined to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online and have set out world-leading proposals to put a duty of care on online companies, enforced by an independent regulator.

“We are backing the industry to support our work by developing new products to improve online security and drive growth in the digital economy. This new association will help bring together relevant organisations to collaborate, innovate and create a safer online world.”

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Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, added: “We welcome the growth of a safety tech sector that is essential to protecting children from abuse, and that can support companies deliver their duty of care to users of their platforms.

The government’s Online Harms Bill will be the first of its kind in the world and a thriving safety tech sector is vital to ensure the UK leads the way in child protection online.”

Besides Cyan Forensics and Public, OSTIA’s other founding members are: content analytics specialist Cubica; device moderation technology supplier DragonflAI; child-friendly social media community GoBubble; image and video moderation specialist Image Analyzer; AI security firm Qumodo; smartphone app developer SafeToNet; school network monitoring service provider Securus Software; internet safety service SuperAwesome; data handling service TrustElevate; AI child abuse prevention specialist VigilAI; and identity management service Yoti.

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