The world’s leading AI companies pledge to protect the safety of children online

Leading artificial intelligence companies including OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Meta and others have jointly pledged to prevent their AI tools from being used to exploit children and generate child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The initiative was led by child-safety group Thorn and All Tech Is Human, a non-profit focused on responsible tech.

The pledges from AI companies, Thorn said, “set a groundbreaking precedent for the industry and represent a significant leap in efforts to defend children from sexual abuse as a feature with generative AI unfolds.” The goal of the initiative is to prevent the creation of sexually explicit material involving children and take it off social media platforms and search engines. More than 104 million files of suspected child sexual abuse material were reported in the US in 2023 alone, Thorn says. In the absence of collective action, generative AI is poised to make this problem worse and overwhelm law enforcement agencies that are already struggling to identify genuine victims.

On Tuesday, Thorn and All Tech Is Human released a new paper titled “Safety by Design for Generative AI: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse” that outlines strategies and lays out recommendations for companies that build AI tools, search engines, social media platforms, hosting companies and developers to take steps to prevent generative AI from being used to harm children.

One of the recommendations, for instance, asks companies to choose data sets used to train AI models carefully and avoid ones only only containing instances of CSAM but also adult sexual content altogether because of generative AI’s propensity to combine the two concepts. Thorn is also asking social media platforms and search engines to remove links to websites and apps that let people “nudity” images of children, thus creating new AI-generated child sexual abuse material online. A flood of AI-generated CSAM, according to the paper, will make identifying genuine victims of child sexual abuse more difficult by increasing the “haystack problem” — an reference to the amount of content that law enforcement agencies must current sift through.

“This project was intended to make abundantly clear that you don’t need to throw up your hands,” Thorn’s vice president of data science Rebecca Portnoff told the Wall Street Journal. “We want to be able to change the course of this technology to where the existing harms of this technology get cut off at the knees.”

Some companies, Portnoff said, had already agreed to separate images, video and audio that involved children from data sets containing adult content to prevent their models from combining the two. Others also add watermarks to identify AI-generated content, but the method isn’t foolproof — watermarks and metadata can be easily removed.

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