Encrypted messaging Wickr, which has been owned by Amazon since June 2021, has become a hub for distributing pedophile content according to research NBC News published June 10. Anglo-Saxon law enforcement and justice encounter the very nature of the application, making talks inaccessible. The protection of minors is sacrificed on the altar of privacy, the exchange of messages does not want to reveal the work of its exchange encryption tools. Child protection associations believe that Wickr is not investing enough effort.
Wickr reports almost no content of child sexual abuse
NBC News reviewed 72 court records relating to cases of child sexual abuse or child pornography in which the accused used Wickr to commit his crime. These events have occurred in the past five years in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. They point to the lack of cooperation between the application and law enforcement agencies. Wickr, wanting to guarantee the protection of users’ privacy, has become a central link in networks for sharing illegal content.
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According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the American Association for the Protection of Children, Wickr is not the only platform that must take action against the spread of this content. However, a lack of response and very few reports have attracted more and more people to share pictures or videos involving child sexual abuse.
In 2021, 22 million applications sent to NCMEC come from Facebook, 3 million from Instagram and 1.3 million from WhatsApp. Wickr, for his part, reported only 15 illegal content related to minors. Extremely low number, which is certainly related to the small number of users compared to Meta platforms, but primarily because Wickr is not doing anything to reveal this content. According to John Shehan, vice president of NCMEC, 3,500 reports were made on Wickr by third-party organizations.
Abusers connect with their victims through public platforms
Wickr attracts dangerous individuals because the app does not ask for personal information to use. Exchanges between users are fully encrypted, therefore inaccessible to anyone outside the conversation. Messaging even lets you delete exchanges without leaving a trace.
Due to their extremely closed system, sexual predators cannot directly contact their victims on Wicker. They go through public channels, such as the most popular social networks or online video games, to access children or individuals interested in illegal content. Attackers simply share their Wickr username on these platforms through posts. Their potential victims just need to add them to the messaging system to start a conversation that will leave no trace.
To persuade their prey to join them on Wicker, predators create forums, Twitter posts, and even communities on Reddit. In this way, they establish first contact through publications, not very discreet, that relate to topics such as incest or sharing family photos. There are a dozen subreddits, named after the Reddit communities, which serve as exchange hubs on Wicker, according to NBC News. It didn’t take long for Siècle Digital to find, with a few clicks, messages posted two days ago by individuals openly seeking pedophile content in one of these Reddit communities.
A Reddit spokesman explained that the platform is actively fighting sexual content involving minors. The social network regularly bans entire communities. Seven subordinates that mentioned Wickr in their names have recently been removed. Tumblr site has a similar policy. It uses the PhotoDNA tool, photo detection software, to identify illegal images and report the users behind them.
The same observation on Twitter, where a search for the term “Wickr” leads to tweets containing hashtags like “teen”, “perv” or “nolimit”. The social network is still mostly used by dealers who share their Wickr profile. They know very well that justice will not have access to the content of the conversation. The user even writes that “ smart people use Wickr instead of Telegram to talk to their dealers.
A spokesman for the social network reminds that this content is strictly prohibited by Twitter policy and that the platform ” aggressively combats child sexual abuse online and we have invested heavily in technology and tools to strengthen our policy “.
Justice has faced privacy imperatives
Wickr problems are not new. Encrypted messages are a real headache in many legal cases. This problem was brought to the fore in 2015. As part of the case, the FBI requested from Apple the tools needed to decrypt the iPhone. The Wickr Foundation, a nonprofit messaging organization, stood in Apple’s defense, saying the FBI’s request would be ” deliberately compromising digital security would diminish human rights around the world “.
In 2020, the distribution of 21 content on Wicker, related to child sexual abuse, led to the same number of lawsuits. John Shehan of NCMEC believes the platform can do more without sacrificing privacy. ” We truly believe that in an encrypted environment there are always ways to identify this type of activity. Companies like Wickr should explore ways to make this possible on their platform while protecting users. “.
With WhatsApp, Meta shows that solutions exist. The famous messenger uses an encryption method similar to Wicker, but unlike the latter, Meta reports a lot. Mark Zuckerberg’s company manages to detect illegal content by analyzing user profiles outside of messages. It also fights the spread of illegal content by limiting the number of people with whom the viral image can be shared.
The debate on privacy is about fighting the content of child pornography. Last May, online privacy advocates expressed concern over the European Commission’s controversial law on dealing with child pornography on the Internet. If this regulation is adopted, it would oblige social networks and messengers. ” detect, report and remove material on child sexual abuse “.