Three UK police forces from a total of 45 have recorded instances of child abuse in the metaverse, though case numbers remain low for now.
The revelations come as part of a UK-wide investigation by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
A troubling report
UK police forces recorded 30,925 individual offenses involving indecent images of children in 2021-2022. The figures were collected by the NSPCC under freedom of information requests.
As part of the investigation, the children’s charity uncovered a small number of instances in which the criminals used either the metaverse or metaverse-related technologies to perpetrate their crimes.
The report also shows that Snapchat is the pedophile’s social media platform of choice. Of the 9,888 cases which involved social media, Snapchat counted for 4,293 instances, Facebook 1,361, Instagram 1,363, and WhatsApp 547.
By comparison only eight of the total reported cases involved the metaverse in some way, with one case specifically related to Meta’s Oculus brand. While those numbers are incredibly small in the grander scheme of things, they do not present a reason for complacency.
An increasing problem
Sir Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC outlined the case for vigilance – as figures have increased by 66% over the past five years.
“These new figures are incredibly alarming but reflect just the tip of the iceberg of what children are experiencing online,” he said.
The charity went on to argue for amendments to the UK Online Safety Bill, including changes that would hold tech bosses criminally liable.
Meta echoed the horror of the UK charity, but did not go so far as to back their demands. Meta instead cited their work with the equivalent body in the US, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
“This horrific content is banned on our apps, and we report instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC,” a spokesperson said for the company. “We lead the industry in the development and use of technology to prevent and remove this content, and we work with the police, child safety experts and industry partners to tackle this societal issue. Our work in this area is never done, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep this content off our apps.”
Child safety paramount
Despite the small number of recorded crimes in the metaverse, there is little room for complacency when it comes to child safety. For those seeking to exploit children, however, the metaverse would seem like a bad choice to perpetrate those crimes.
As MetaNews previously reported, everything you currently do in the metaverse is subject to being recorded and stored somewhere for later reference. A few minutes in the metaverse creates millions of individual data points – which when coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) is enough to identify a person as clearly as a fingerprint.
A recent report from the University of California Berkley (UCB), reported by MetaNews earlier this week, states that privacy in the metaverse is next to impossible. The researchers found that just one hundred seconds of recorded VR motion is enough to accurately identify a person with 94% accuracy from a pool of 50,000 participants.
While ordinary citizens may have legitimate privacy concerns about how such powerful surveillance technology might be misused, nobody is going to cry if pedophiles are caught out by it.