Security experts told BBC Radio 4’s ‘File on 4’ programme that paedophiles use encrypted apps, such as Telegram and Discord, to trade child abuse photos on the dark web. Researchers have even found links to Telegram’s disturbing images in comments to YouTube videos.
Dr Victoria Baines is a former Europol officer who now serves as a cybercrime expert and adviser to the UK’s serious and Organised Crime Agency. She told the BBC:
Telegram and Discord
The dark web can only be accessed through special browsers. As corners of space have been sealed off, delinquent have started using secure messaging apps to buy and sell unlawful goods.
These apps have both a public and private aspect. In the public domain, one can find links to groups that advertise unlawful products. However, once a user clicks on a link and is accepted into a group, they can access a chat room that is only accessible to other members and contains peer-to-peer encryption. This keeps everything that happens within the group out of the reach of security forces. Governments have accused Telegram of being a hub for assassins in the past and suggest they use the app to coordinate strike.
Telegram allows users to form groups of up to 5000 people who can send each other messages and send media files. In March 2018 alone, 200 million people used the app.
The investigation found at least one Telegram group with hundreds of inappropriate images of children and found that the group advertised through links buried deep in YouTube comments, making them searchable for people looking for obscene images.
Discord is especially popular among young people who use the app to chat online while gaming. The study concluded that the groups were mainly teenagers and that there was clearly coercion of underage children by users who tried to convince them to send inappropriate photos. One user had even created a price list and left an email address so that children could send their photos.
In response to his share in the scandal, a YouTube spokesperson said:
A Telegram spokesman insisted that the company respond to complaints of child abuse within an hour. Discord also claimed that they took measures to ensure that their platform was a safe space and pointed out that only a very small portion of their user base participated in unlawful activities.