The Big Ask, Bill Shortcomings, New Features on Instagram & More



A Childhood Commission to investigate the issues affecting children’s prospects, both before and as a result of the pandemic, has been launched by the office of the Children’s Commissioner.  It is described as a once-in-a-generation review of the future of childhood.  An online survey, “The Big Ask” which will be the largest consultation ever held with children in England, will seek the views of children on how the pandemic has affected their lives and how they feel about the future.  It is to be launched after the Easter holidays and will be distributed widely including via schools, children’s charities and social media. The Commission will publish an interim report on the results of the survey before the summer and will develop a 10-year plan with policy recommendations, and metrics and targets to be used to hold the Government to account.


The children’s charity, NSPCC, has published a critical assessment of the Government’s Online Safety Bill in its “Delivering a Duty of Care” report this month.  Whilst welcoming many of the proposals, its analysis also reveals a number of significant weaknesses.  It highlights a failure to meet 9 out of the 27 indicators, developed by the charity last September to judge the effectiveness of the Bill. 

The NSPCC recommends imposing a legal duty on Ofcom to address the cross-platform nature of risks, such as abusers contacting children on social media sites and then moving them to encrypted messaging and live-streaming sites.  It notes that online abuse is rarely restricted to a single platform and gives the example of abuse facilitated via a video game platform combined with a chat platform, like Discord. 

It points out the need for regulatory powers to tackle content that facilitates child abuse, even if it doesn’t meet the criminal threshold, such as carefully edited videos that lead abusers to illegal material.  The report also proposes greater liability for senior managers of tech companies in order to incentivise their compliance and a levelling of the playing field for children by giving them a dedicated user advocacy voice, funded by industry levy.

The charity encourages the Government to prioritise the publishing of the draft bill and its enactment.  It emphasises the greater time spent online by children during the pandemic, the widespread adoption of live-streaming technology and the likely continuation of home-working practices that can lead to increased demand for child abuse images and the corresponding response of groomers to satisfy it.


The social media platform, Instagram has announced the introduction of a number of safety improvements for teens on their site, as well as plans to introduce others in the future.  These include encouraging teens to set their accounts to private rather than public, both on setting up an account and with a reminder of the benefits at a later stage if they have chosen public.  Instagram are also developing improved artificial intelligence to detect underage users (under 13) and restricting the use of Direct Messaging (DM) between teens and adults that they do not “follow.”  The age prediction technology will also be used to help implement this restriction.  The new features, including safety alerts to teens, if they are already in conversation with adults showing suspicious behaviour, and restrictions on such adults contacting other teens, will be rolled out in different countries over time.   

Whilst these plans are welcome, they will only be effective for current users if they have given the correct age of birth when they registered.  They also come alongside Instagram’s plans to introduce end-to-end encryption on the platform, a feature which presents significant risks to children due to the difficulty of identifying and disrupting abuse.


Data from the call blocker devices reveals that nuisance calls dropped hugely during April 2020 when many call centres were closed due to the pandemic but have now returned to pre-Covid levels.  A collaboration between National Trading Standards (NTS) and the Department for Culture Media and Sport, which enabled call blockers to be installed in the homes of 1,000 elderly people, revealed they were about 3 times more likely to be targeted than average.  (According to Ofcom, the general public receive on average 7.4 nuisance calls per month).  The NTS reports that the increase in nuisance calls targeting the over 70’s focussed on attempts to exploit Covid-related activities such as applying for vaccines but that call blockers had been effective and had protected users both financially and emotionally. 

Other current scams include spoofed telephone calls purporting to be from HM Courts and Tribunal Service, threatening arrest for tax errors or fraudulent use of National Insurance numbers.

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