Public backs action to prevent child abuse in private messaging

New YouGov polling has found overwhelming public support for measures to protect children from abuse in private messaging.

The survey of 1,723 adults across the UK found most believe there should be a legal duty on tech firms to identify child sexual abuse in private messaging and to disrupt it in end-to-end encrypted environments.

It comes ahead of the next stage of the Online Safety Bill which would give Ofcom powers to require platforms to use accredited technology to identify child sexual abuse in end-to-end encrypted messaging apps if a significant risk to children has been identified. The new polling shows this measure is backed by seven in ten (73%) of the UK public.1

The polling also found:

  • Eight in ten (79%) think companies should seek to develop technology that allows them to identify child sexual abuse in end-to-end encrypted messaging apps
  • 60% of the public think it should be a legal requirement for tech companies to scan for child sexual abuse in private messaging services
  • Eight in ten (79%) think it should be a legal requirement on social media sites.

Offenders continue to exploit social media to abuse children. Cases include children being groomed and blackmailed into sharing intimate images of themselves.

One 15-year-old girl who contacted Childline said:

“I’ve been chatting with this guy online who’s like twice my age. This all started on Instagram but lately all our chats have been on WhatsApp. He seemed really nice to begin with, but then he started making me do these things to ‘prove my trust’ to him, like doing video chats with my chest exposed. Every time I did these things for him, he would ask for more, and I felt like it was too late to back out. I feel so stupid for even going this far. This whole thing has been slowly destroying me and I’ve been having thoughts of hurting myself.”

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Richard Collard, Head of Child Safety Online Policy at the NSPCC, said:

“This new polling shows the UK public overwhelmingly support measures to tackle child abuse in end-to-end encrypted environments.

“Most tech companies already scan for child sexual abuse on their apps and messaging services leading to more than 1,000 children being protected from sexual abuse every month.

 “It is now clear that companies who wish to pit children’s fundamental right to safety against the privacy rights of adults are out of step with the public and, ultimately, their user base.

“Tech firms can show industry leadership by working with regulators, child safety advocates and safety tech companies to invest in technology that protects both the safety and privacy rights of all users.”


  1. 1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1723 adults in UK who consented to answer questions about children's online safety. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th - 27th April 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). Asked Would you support or oppose the Online Safety Bill giving media regulator Ofcom the power to hold an appointed senior manager at a technology company personally responsible by law, and potentially face punishment, if the company is found to be failing to take all reasonable steps to do the following?