PLDT, Smart rachet up global fight against online child abuse, links up with IWF

PLDT Inc. (PLDT) and its wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) have formalized their membership into the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), broadening its global fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSEAC).

The IWF membership officially makes PLDT and Smart the first in the Philippines to join the global coalition of more than 150 organizations, including some of the world’s largest tech giants in the fight against OSAEC. With the IWF members, PLDT and Smart gain access to a wider database on which to block harmful links. The IWF, which has identified at least 9,000 domains linked to online child abuse, counts Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Telefonica, and Vodafone among its members.

“We’re now part of a bigger community that shares information on child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) that are spread across the Internet. We have access to IWF’s rich database of websites that host these illegal materials. This will be integrated into our own child protection platform to prevent further exposure of our children and customers to these illicit contents,” said PLDT and Smart Chief Information Security Officer Angel Redoble.  

Backed by the global internet industry and the European Commission, the IWF is a non-profit organization that works  closely with law enforcement agencies of national governments, internet service providers and platforms, and charitable organizations in taking down webpages, keywords, hash lists, and digital fingerprints that contain child abuse materials.

“The children in the images and videos our analysts see are real children. Every time their abuse is shared online, they are made victims all over again. Working together like this will help make a real difference to victims’ lives,” said Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF. 

Because the issue is a global one, Hargreaves says it’s important for the organization to “work with partners around the world to make sure children are safe, and that criminals have nowhere to go to share images and videos of the abuse and suffering of children.” 

This development reinforces the strategy that PLDT and Smart employ in detecting and blocking access to exploitative content on the internet. They have been digging deeper into the fight against OSAEC by employing a targeted platform that automatically restricts access to child sexual abuse materials (CSAM).  

Crucial to this battle is access to IWF’s vault of blacklisted domains where child abuse materials have been uploaded. PLDT and Smart’s membership to the international child rights advocate group has granted them access to IWF’s database containing more than 9,000 domains that host CSAM. 

“Domains that are purely OSAEC-related will be immediately blocked through our secure DNS. But for child abuse photos and videos that have found their way into legitimate websites, we will cut access to them through our child protection platform,” explained Redoble. 

PLDT and Smart have been blocking illegal sites through open-source threat intelligence gathering, purchasing available commercial threat intelligence and receiving information from the government through law enforcement agencies. 

Spawned by the COVID-19 lockdowns last year, the Philippine Department of Justice reported a 264% spike in reported cases of OSAEC. These have been heavily attributed to incidences of poverty within families during the lockdown, as well as the heightened exposure of children to the Internet.  

“While we are mandated to secure our system, network, and data assets, we should also protect our children because they are our future. That’s why we pushed for membership with IWF so we can build on opportunities to work with and learn from the world’s best in safeguarding children and customers on the internet,” added Redoble.  

Children, as future stakeholders and nation-builders, have always been at the heart of PLDT and Smart. Both PLDT and Smart are committed to promote awareness and take accountability in upholding children’s rights, protecting them from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation, and empowering them to actively and harmoniously participate in family, cultural and community life. 

The membership with IWF underscores PLDT and Smart’s resolve to engage global organizations in curtailing online child abuse. Separately, PLDT and Smart have recently renewed ties with UNICEF to support children’s rights and advocate for their protection, as well as the elimination of OSAEC in the Philippines.  

The IWF membership is also a leap forward in boosting their compliance with Republic Act 9775 or the Philippine Anti-Child Pornography Law. The PLDT Group also supports the position of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO) in urging Congress to reconcile conflicting laws that impact ISP compliance and hamper anti-child pornography efforts. PLDT and Smart are also actively participating in discussions to strengthen the country’s Cybercrime Prevention Law.

PLDT and Smart have earmarked close to Php 2 billion to run the advanced cybersecurity operations center, where cybersecurity analysts predict, prevent, detect, and respond to all types of cyber threats like phishing and scamming activities, including those related to OSAEC. This has enabled the two companies to block more than 3,000 domains that have featured child abuse materials.