My thoughts on the NYT Child Sex Abuse Article

Posted on Sep 29, 2019

If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so:

The things that I want to really point out:

  • NCMEC is horribly underfunded, and has issues keeping (and retaining) technical talent.
  • Startups like Thorn (Which is Ashton Kutcher’s anti-child sex trafficking startup) try to help solve the problem by providing solutions to NCMEC, but, Thorn itself seems to be in a bit of a disarray with hiring and retaining technical talent. (I interviewed for a position at Thorn, and during the interview process, it was mentioned to me that the position that I was applying for had been open for six months! After two rounds, they rejected me with no feedback…which really kinda sucked from my point of view, but, it was the most depersonalized hiring process that I had ever been through).
  • NCMEC is taking a LOT of funding from Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, who are also reporting things to NCMEC. NCMEC has no real transparency mandates and actively blocked the NYT from getting reasonable statistics.

I’ve seen this from a few different angles:

  • In College, when I was working as the Campus Telephone, Telephone, and Cable TV guy, we had a janitor in one of the buildings who liked to look at things that he shouldn’t during the overnight hours. I ended up working with an FBI agent to install spyware on the network for the lab so that they could help build a case against him.
  • Working for an online service that had a lot of user generated content – and submitted reports to NCMEC myself when there was questionable content. I ended up writing the compliance tool that we used until we went out of business (takes a hash and copy of the image, along with the user’s ID/info and IP address and stored it until requested by a LEO).

I just want to start by saying that child sex abuse and child sex trafficking/pornography is more than a criminal issue – it’s a mental epidemic. I think some of it is because of the generalization of porn (and admittedly, I’m sure I have had a part in that as well), but, as we build tools to allow for more privacy and secure communications on the web, we’ll also encounter instances where those tools are used by bad actors for a variety of terrible things. I don’t want to grow up in an Orwellian-esq world where “Big Brother” is watching everything that I do, but, I don’t want to have these individuals amongst us, getting closer to children, and continuing the cycle of abuse.

While the NYT article shows the world at large the side of technology (and the struggles in keeping up with things), it’s a great call to action for guys like me who want to be part of the solution and building tools to help Law Enforcement squash the spread and creation of this content.