Safeguarding – Is technology the problem?

Technology has always been a vehicle for child exploitation, but now it can be part of the solution

Police raided a photographic studio in Chelsea that belonged to Mr.Henry Hayler.
In his studio they found over 130,000 obscene images, many of young children including his two young sons.
Hayler had customers all over Europe and America.

I doubt if you have heard of Henry Hayler. He committed his offences in 1874.using a plate glass camera and stamps.

Northern Ireland Ethics in IT: Why safeguarding should be a pillar in our profession

On Thursday the 14th of March 2019, Jim Gamble gave a seminar to the BCS Northern Ireland branch on safeguarding and why it needs to be at the heart of our industry and profession.
Jim is the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre and now managing director of INEQE

One of Jim’s key points was that Henry Hayler did not live in the internet age.
Henry Hayler’s crime was as old as time and when we discuss safeguarding and child protection, we need to consider societal and human factors as well.

We need to recognise that technology is now part of a child’s life. The question is how to we prepare children for it and how as responsible adults we make that world safer.

Technology does not commit crime, people do. So what can we do?

The role of technology companies

Responsible technology companies now realise that safeguarding is a major issue for them.
Even if they don’t feel It in their corporate bones. They understand the risk a safeguarding incident poses to their reputation.

Technology companies already know a great deal about us from our behaviour online.
It’s this knowledge they sell to advertisers or use themselves to offer us other services.
For many, it’s what their profits are built on.
Why can’t they use that same ingenuity to identify unusual or suspect behaviour that might give concern.
Or direct users to sources of help when they are concerned about online activity.

For example, an interactive game provides the perfect opportunity for an abuser to build a rapport with a child through a shared interest and the excitement of the game.
Surely interactive gaming companies could provide reporting mechanisms during game play to allow a young player to flag a concern.
Some people will raise the question of ‘big brother’ and what else might be done with this data. It is certainly not a substitute for parental supervision, but can safegaurding be built in by design?

Jim suggested that if we put the child’s safety at the heart of a products design it could make for a safer product and probably a more successful one.

Put simply #FirstDoNoHarm.

Parents and Teachers

Parents and teachers face a range of difficulties.

  • They don’t always know what their children are doing online
  • Often children are more confident with technology than adults.
    But that shouldn’t be confused with understanding or appreciation.
  • Adults have difficulty Identifying the issues they really need to focus on.

We need to find ways to raise awareness about online safety without creating anxiety.

In this context Jim, raised a very interesting point.
The phrase “What goes on-line stays on-line” is often used to make people think about their on-line activity.
But what does it say to someone who is already anxious or concerned?.
Perhaps we should rethink our approach.

.Children need access to educational materials.
Teachers and parents need resources to deliver that education and they need to know where to find them.
Sadly this is nothing new.
The BCS drew attention this back in November 2008 in an article ‘Sowing the seeds of eSafety’
It is a theme Jim returned to again, emphasising the need for investment in education.

As one teacher puts it, “Educate on digital literacy little and often. What you do every day has more impact than what you do every three months.”

So when a child does have inappropriate contact or a bad experience online, what should they do?


Give your child the knowledge to use technology safely.

Parents and carers should try to be are aware of what children are doing and experiencing. For example, take a sideways glance at the apps on the front of your child’s phone, Are there any unusual ones?

Make sure they and you know where to turn for help. There are lots of resources out there.
I have listed some below. They include managing technology through to counselling and advisory services.

But most importantly of all, make sure they understand that nothing is so bad they cannot speak about it.

Technology is a tremendous force for good.
But we must understand there are people and organisations who through, malice, selfishness or lack of awareness will do harm. We just have to manage it.

Modern technology is not the abuser, just look at Henry Haley.

Useful Resources

ChildLine – online and on the phone anytime
Phone: 0800 11 11

NSPCC / O2 information and free helpline giving advice on parental control, privacy settings etc.
Phone: 0808 800 5002

NSPCC Share Aware site for helping parents start the conversation about online safety

NSPCC PANTS resources for starting discussions with young children about their safety in the real world

BCS Digital Literacy Qulifications e-Safety

Safeguarding Board NI safety consultation