The EU Wants Chat Apps To Scan Messages for Child Abuse Material

Facebook Messenger AH NS 02 AH 2019

The internet is like a superpower— it can be used for good or very terrible things. This is true for chat apps, especially as far as kids are concerned. Because of this, the EU proposed that chat apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger be required to scan their messages for any inappropriate material dealing with children.

Because these apps are so big, they’re a large meeting ground for all sorts of people. They can be business professionals, best friends, or loved ones. However, this also means that adults can have unsavory interactions with children. This is the fuel that’s propelling this proposal from the EU.

Basically, the chat applications would have infrastructure in place so that they can select certain conversations to monitor. While monitoring them, the company will be able to scan the contents and see if they match up with known grooming or abusive chats.


The EU wants companies to scan chats, but there is some major pushback

Unsurprisingly, this proposal rubbed some people the wrong way. On the surface, there are some obvious benefits to this. People targeting kids online will go to jail and child abuse will take an ostensible downturn. But this is a double-edged sword.

The Verge reports that several people are not thrilled about this proposal because of some potential issues. Jay Penfrat of the European Digital Rights (EDRi) stated that “This looks like a shameful general surveillance law entirely unfitting for any free democracy.” This statement, while brief, summarizes the overall theme for all of the opposition to this proposal. People will not like anyone watching their conversations.

Why people don’t like this idea

A big part of the argument against this proposal has to do with the power granted to entities if official legislature comes to be. “There’s no way to do what the EU proposal seeks to do, other than for governments to read and scan user messages on a massive scale,”  said senior policy analyst at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation Joe Mullin.


This most likely won’t come to fruition

Right now, this proposal is just that: a proposal. While the EU wanting companies to scan the messages has some benefits, there will be many ramifications to consider, both good and bad. In a perfect world, kids will be protected online, predators will go to prison, and no one will have to worry about privacy. Unfortunately, there will be some downsides.

We can’t have privacy without grooming, and we can have a grooming-free chat platform without giving up privacy. Apple proposed something like this last year only to have it shot down. It looks like this proposal from the EU might suffer the same fate.