Facebook has been accused of leaving 'broken children' as collateral damage in the wake of their commercial aims, the child sex abuse inquiry has heard.
Barrister William Chapman, representing the victims of abuse at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said social media companies were not preventing paedophiles reaching children as it was “contrary to their business model” and that their apps needed to be “fundamentally redesigned”.
Police also warned that tech firms were going ahead with plans to encrypt more features "in the certain knowledge" it would lead to more children being abused.
The warnings came as the inquiry’s hearing into online child abuse drew to a close yesterday. Over the last fortnight IICSA has heard evidence from Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google about their efforts to combat child abuse online.
Giving his closing statement, Mr Chapman singled out Facebook as the “unacceptable face of social media”, citing that over half of reported grooming offences in 2017 and 2018 related to the company or its Instagram and WhatsApp apps.
He said that social networks scanned for evidence of abuse after it happened and that they now needed to change their business model to stop abusers easily contacting children.
Mr Chapman said: “What they will not do, because it is contrary to their business model, is to restrict the opportunities for abuse before it takes place.”
He added: “They leave behind broken children like so much collateral damage. “Money, they say, is no object but none you heard from has a dedicated budget to tackling this problem.”
Among the recommendations being made to the inquiry on behalf of victims are for tech companies pay compensation to those abused via their services and that a new criminal offence be made of posing online as a child online without a reasonable excuse.
Mr Chapman also accused tech companies of not giving the inquiry a “straight answer” about the scale of abuse on their sites and selectively releasing figures without context.
Earlier in the hearing Microsoft failed to provide figures for how many children had been groomed on its live chat services Xbox Live and Skype and Facebook was similarly unable to say how many registered sex offenders had been caught using its services.
“It is not acceptable to hide the extent of the problem on your platform in a black box out of which you prick pinholes for others to see only hints of the full horror within," said Mr Chapman.
Later in the hearing, Debra Powell QC, speaking for the National Police Chiefs Council, warned that tech giants' plans to make ever more services encrypted would lead to more children being abused.
Last month Facebook announced plans to add end-to-end encryption to its 1.3 billion-user Messenger service, meaning not even it will be able to see the content of messages.
Ms Powell said: “Currently many technology companies are building in and offering to their users ever greater privacy protections, including end-to-end encryption, in the certain knowledge that this will make the detection and prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation more difficult.
“The inevitable result must be that more children will be abused and exploited and that their ordeals will go on for longer before the perpetrators can be caught, if they are caught at all.”