Privacy and security / June 06, 2024

Stopping the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) online: a conversation with Signy Arnason, Associate Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Person typing on laptop

CSAM online has been spreading at epidemic levels. So much so that the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) launched Project Arachnid in 2017. It’s the first victim-centric solution dedicated to reducing the public availability of CSAM online and providing relief and hope to survivors of sexual abuse.

To understand what CSAM is, how it spreads, the experience of survivors and how to broach these sensitive online safety topics with the kids in your life, we spoke with Signy Arnason, Associate Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Signy joined C3P in 2001 and was instrumental in establishing and running Cybertip.ca, Canada’s national tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children. In her current role, she oversees C3P’s operations, including the development and international implementation of Project Arachnid.

Q: What is CSAM and how prevalent is it in Canada and around the globe?

SA: CSAM involves the recording of sexual abuse either as an image, a video or a drawing. It often shocks people how readily accessible this content is on the public web. At Cybertip.ca, we receive up to 2,500 reports per month from Canadians concerned about kids being victimized online in some capacity. That’s close to 30,000 reports per year. Up until the launch of Project Arachnid, there wasn’t a solution available globally to support survivors whose abuse had been recorded and shared widely on the Internet.

Q: What is Project Arachnid and what are its key objectives?

SA: Project Arachnid is an innovative, victim-centric set of tools that combats the growing proliferation of CSAM on the Internet. The platform leverages detection technologies and dedicated analysts to issue automated removal notices to hosting providers around the world. Since launch, Project Arachnid has issued 40 million notices to approximately 1,500 providers in more than 100 countries. Currently, our daily average is approximately 20,000 notices. And we re-issue notices every 24 hours until the image comes down. As we know, the Internet isn’t regulated, so images can be easily re-uploaded and shared widely. Through Project Arachnid, we detect millions of images online, a lot of which is historical content of survivors who are now adults. Without removal, those people can’t escape their past abuse and keep reliving their trauma. It is our obligation to protect the safety of the most vulnerable and fight against the mass commoditization and normalization of this material.

Q: What are your priorities for 2024 and beyond?

SA: We have three main pillars of focus: reduce the availability of CSAM online, support victims and survivors and advocate for global change to reduce the level of victimization we are currently seeing. The issues of online safety for kids are evolving rapidly, so it is important we maintain ongoing dialogue and continuously increase awareness with governments, the general public, school systems and parents. For example, in 2023, we launched The Horse PSA to increase awareness about the importance of taking concrete action to safeguard children online, especially when so many have their own smartphones.

Q: How is Project Arachnid evolving as technology evolves, especially with the growing use and sophistication of AI?

SA: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is worrisome in a few ways. First, young people are using nude generator apps to create naked images of peers. This phenomenon is exploding at the school level and is incredibly damaging. We are also starting to see an uptick in AI-generated CSAM where offenders create new images from a past abuse. In 2022/23, we flagged 2,500 AI-generated images. In 2023/24, that number rose to 3,700. In April alone, we tracked 500 AI-generated images, which could mean another significant increase to approximately 5,000 to 6,000 by the end of the year.

Q: What impact has Project Arachnid made?

SA: We are in a very privileged position working with many survivors, and what we consistently hear is that Project Arachnid has changed their lives and finally given them a chance to heal. Previously, many survivors were trying to manage the removal of their abuse material on their own. Now, Project Arachnid is leveraging technology to quickly detect where CSAM sits at rest online and issues notices at global scale to have it removed. Our awareness campaigns are also critical. We provide educational material in all provinces and territories to help parents and children reduce the likelihood of being harmed. Companies that interact with children must step up and assume their fair share of the responsibility for keeping kids safe online. We’ve been advocating strongly for proper controls and more accountability.

Q: What advice would you share with parents and what types of conversations should they be having with the kids in their lives?

SA: As kids become more independent and autonomous online, they also become more vulnerable. Online safety conversations must start as soon as you connect your kids to the Internet. It helps to approach these conversations with curiosity and without any judgement or blame. Every kid has a right to safety, privacy, body autonomy and sexual integrity. If someone violates any of those rights, we want kids feeling safe enough to seek out a safe adult for help. As kids get older, present “what if” scenarios and let them suggest appropriate responses. Teens learn from practicing decision-making.If someone does target them online, they will have an understanding of what to do and where to turn for help in the moment. I also think it’s very important to set limits for kids, so they can direct their time and attention to other things and engage with people in the real world.

Q: Any final thoughts?

SA: For the most part, parents are attuned, aware and doing the best they can to keep kids safe online. Companies need to do a lot more to fulfill their obligation of keeping kids safe on their platforms. We must insist on a shared sense of responsibility, similar to the norms we have in the offline world.

To learn more about supporting youth in our digital world, watch this impactful discussion about the growing risk of sextortion and what you can do about it here.

Tags:
Prevention & support
Share this article with your friends:

There is more to explore

Privacy and security

Fraudsters impersonating the Canadian Anti Fraud Centre

Learn how fraudsters are impersonating the CAFC and police services.

Read article

Privacy and security

Scammers, fraudsters and phones, oh my!

It may seem like the oldest trick in the book, but phone scams continue to be on the rise as fraudsters use new tactics and get increasingly creative.

Read article

Privacy and security

Home services and equipment fraud

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is noticing an increase in reporting related to misleading home services and equipment.

Read article