What is encryption and how does it impact children’s online safety?

Find out what encryption is, what this means as a potential risk for child online safety, and the concerns raised over it.

What is encryption or encrypted messages?

Encryption or encrypted messages ensure only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what’s sent – nobody in between. In other words, encrypted messages prevent anyone from viewing your conversations.

How does encryption work?

Each message that is sent is secured with a lock and only the receiver and sender have the special keys to unlock it and read the message. This happens automatically on a range of platforms.

What popular apps use encryption?

Currently the most popular apps that use end-to-end encryption are WhatsApp, Telegram and Apple iMessage and FaceTime. Facebook Messenger offers you an option to turn encryption on in the form of Secret Conversations.

Is every message I send and receive via phone encrypted?

No. There are a few apps and messaging services that use encryption as mentioned above.

In addition to text messaging, pictures, stickers can be encrypted.

Concerns raised over encrypted services and child safety online

If messages and attachments are sent and received (when using an encrypted service), they are protected by end-to-end encryption.

This has caused conflicts with police and other child protection advocates and organisations. Their main concern is that encryption will create a digital hiding place for sexual predators, making it easy for them to hide sexual abuse.

Some non-profit organisations and charities have argued that encryption may lead to creating hiding places for child abuse because evidence may be harder to recover. However, a spokesperson at Facebook has said “…protecting the wellbeing of children on its platform was “critically important” to it.
We have led the industry in safeguarding children from exploitation and we are bringing this same commitment and leadership to our work on encryption,” he said.

“We are working closely with child-safety experts, including NCMEC [the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children], law enforcement, governments and other technology companies, to help keep children safe online.”

Steps to keep children safe online

  • Parental controls: You can allow your child a safe and happier experience to explore their curiosity online. Ensure to set up parental controls before they do.
  • Regularly check-ins: Have conversations about what your child’s doing online or they’ve spoken to. We’ve got advice and resources on all topics and for all ages, click here.
Resources document

To find out more about protecting your child’s privacy online we’ve recommended guides and resources that will offer you further support.

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