The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) exists to stop, remove and prevent child sexual abuse imagery online. The scale of the problem is extraordinary – the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that up to 830,000 adults in the UK pose some degree of sexual risk to children, which is 1.6% of the adult population.
A new breakthrough in ‘clustering’ technology, part of a group of innovations made possible by funding from Nominet since 2018 – including our latest pledge of £750,000 over the next three years – will enable the IWF to continue to evolve its technologies and techniques. This latest advance means the IWF can now identify and take down child sexual abuse imagery 112% faster than before.
Image clustering technology
Clustering does this by linking similar images together, so that different images with the same victim can quickly be identified from different parts of the internet, then blocked and removed with the help of tech companies and law enforcement agencies. In this way, analysts can assess criminal images in bulk without having to individually assess hundreds of images.
“Merging an image into the cluster can provide vital context for us when assessing images,” says Chris Wilson, Head of Software Development at the IWF.
“If we have already seen and assessed a video, the sub-images from it can be identified. This is the case even if the image itself shows no obvious child sexual material, or if the image does not contain enough of the victim to be sure.
“When it merges into the existing cluster, the analysts can then see the images before and after it in the video, which can often confirm one way or another whether the image is of a child or not.”
Funding more breakthroughs
Clustering tech is just one breakthrough in the fight against online child sexual abuse imagery. The IWF is always researching new ways to identify and take down criminal images, giving their analysts the tools they need to cope with over 7,000 reports per week.
Nominet has funded the IWF since 2018 and has just pledged another £750,000 over three years to enable the IWF to continue to evolve its technologies and techniques.
“What makes this grant different is that the IWF has the flexibility to research, test, identify and innovate the technology they need,” says Paul Fletcher, CEO of Nominet.
“Due in part to our funding, the IWF can now respond quicker to its unique needs and make impactful changes to the lives of both its analysts and the children it seeks to protect.”
“Our work with the IWF is vital to creating a safer and secure internet – both in the UK and beyond, and we look forward to seeing this new clustering tech turn the tide on this criminal activity.”
Helping the analysts
Clustering is also helping to lessen the emotional toll of encountering these images every day. Specifically, it reduces their exposure to seeing the same images or videos multiple times.
“What this means for our analysts is hard to overstate,” says Tamsin McNally, Hotline Manager at the IWF.
“The new clustering tech has seen a revolution in the way we work in the hotline – it’s reduced analysts’ exposure to having to see the same imagery multiple times, and it has made it possible for us to improve the efficiency with which we can take action against criminal content.
“Before, there may have been multiple images which couldn’t be linked up. Now they can be joined together, and analysts can take action against the criminal imagery.”
Watch the video below to hear Dan Sexton, CTO of the Internet Watch Foundation, explain more about clustering and the Nominet funding.