GSMA Mobile Alliance to combat Digital Child Sexual Exploitation

In 2023, after 15 years of working proactively and collaboratively to make mobile networks and services hostile to those wishing to consume, share or profit from child sexual abuse, the GSMA and members of its Mobile Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Content reached out to experts and partners working in this field to ask a simple question: In today’s digital ecosystem, how can the mobile community contribute most usefully to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children in the digital environment?

Today, as part of Safer Internet Day 2024 celebrations, we are pleased to announce that as a result of this consultation, the GSMA Mobile Alliance is being relaunched as the GSMA Mobile Alliance to combat Digital Child Sexual Exploitation.

The Mobile Alliance has evolved to reflect the broader scope of the group’s mission in the current climate and digital ecosystem. Member commitments have also expanded and evolved to address the impact areas that emerged during our stakeholder consultations and member working sessions. So, whilst members will continue their work to keep their own services free from child sexual abuse material, they will also look to harness their convening power and their influence to push for change, alongside working to support national stakeholders, including frontline workers in law enforcement and at child helplines.

The changing digital environment

The original Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content was launched in 2008 by an international group of mobile operators working under the auspices of GSMA. It was underpinned by a clear philosophy: there is no competition in child protection. Over the years, members have mentored each other and shared internal processes to help colleagues in other businesses find ways to move the dial more effectively. This philosophy coupled with the recognition that by taking on this fight, the Mobile Alliance community is joining other stakeholders in committing for the long haul – there is no simple solution to a problem which spans the online and offline worlds, as well as different geographies and jurisdictions, and which requires a coordinated response from a full range of stakeholders to both prevent and respond to the sexual exploitation of children in the digital environment.

Since its launch, the digital environment has changed dramatically. Whilst mobile devices may be the most common internet access point, the means of accessing digital services through that device (for example, via apps, messaging services, or Wi-Fi) and the rise of encryption means that both technically and legally mobile operators’ ability to disrupt access to or remove child sexual abuse content at source has diminished.

The nature of technology-facilitated child sexual abuse and exploitation has similarly evolved. When the Mobile Alliance was launched, our focus was on the prevention of re-victimisation through restricting access to child sexual abuse content: largely, at that time, the online documenting of an offline crime. The range of digital services now available has created a world in which sexual crimes committed against children do not necessarily involve an in-person element at all. For example, the rise of so-called “self-generated” content (which may be shared voluntarily or generated under duress, including through sexual extortion) has been documented extensively in research produced by IWF and Disrupting Harm, amongst others.

Several clear themes emerged during our 2023 consultation with partners and experts on how the mobile community could contribute to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children in today’s digital environment several clear themes emerged:

  • mobile operators have relationships with customers which they can use to promote messages around online safety;
  • mobile operators, unlike many players in the digital space, have on-the-ground corporate presences in every country where their services are used, as well as relationships with governments, and so they can play a useful role in bringing stakeholders together at country level;
  • mobile operators can use their profile and commercial position to help set minimum standards for the internet industry;
  • mobile operators are well-positioned to work collaboratively with remote services such as child helplines so that children affected by these issues can reach out more readily for support;
  • mobile operators can support specialist law enforcement investigating sexual crimes against children online, for example, by having documented engagement processes in place and offering capacity building suitable to the country of operation.

The GSMA is grateful for the support and guidance provided by our external partners during the review process, and the GSMA Mobile Alliance looks forward to continuing to work with our national and international stakeholders to field a coordinated response to digitally-facilitated child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Mobile operators interested in finding out more about the Mobile Alliance to Combat Digital Child Sexual Exploitation should contact njackson@gsma.com

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GSMA Mobile Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Content – Background information

The original purpose of this voluntary initiative launched in 2008 was to work proactively and collaboratively to make mobile networks and services hostile to those wishing to consume, share or profit from child sexual abuse material. This goal was to be achieved through developing and sharing good practice – with each other, as well as the wider industry – and committing to work beyond legislative minimums and ‘standard good practice’.

Every Mobile Alliance member signed up to three minimum commitments: to work with in-country internet reporting hotlines (or to work towards the creation of one, where none existed); to have Notice and Takedown processes in place on hosted services to enable the swift removal of child sexual abuse material; and, to take steps to restrict access to content verified as illegal child sexual abuse material by an appropriate authority (for example, websites on the INTERPOL Worst Of List).

The three minimum commitments agreed in 2008 reflected both the members’ intention to go beyond what was demanded of them through regulation or standard practice, and the area where mobile operators could most usefully take action.