Billionaire Xavier Niel’s telecommunications giant Free hosted 48% of child sexual abuse images found in two-year investigation, nonprofit group says
Free, the French telecommunications giant majority-owned by billionaire Xavier Niel, is not doing enough to tackle images of child sexual abuse on its servers, according to the Canadian Center for Child Protection. The non-profit group alleges that nearly half of the child pornography material (CSAM) discovered during a two-year investigation it conducted was “physically hosted” and downloaded using Free’s telecommunications services. .
The research report, released Wednesday, examined the availability of child pornography and the role of electronic service providers in its dissemination, and found that Free was used by those who “hosted and shared” around 1.1 million images. or alleged CSAM video files. or harmful-abusive content between 2018 and 2020.
In the report titled Project Arachnid, the Canadian Center for Child Protection states that those intending to distribute CSAM “took advantage of Free’s hosting service to anonymously store media online and then stream the link to direct download from forums on the Internet ”.
There is no indication for the moment that Free or the majority owner Xavier Niel, who owns more than 70% of the parent group Iliad, were aware of the problem. Xavier Niel and Iliad did not offer a response to the allegations, nor did they respond Forbes’ questions after being alerted to the report this morning.
The battle to remove CSAM
The Canadian Center for Child Protection has embarked on the battle to remove CSAM from the Internet by specifically targeting the web service infrastructure on which it is downloaded, using a web platform designed to detect images. known and immediately issue deletion notices to Electronic Service Providers (ESPs). Project Arachnid does not claim to have discovered the entire universe of CSAM on the Internet. Search uses “web bots” or bots, similar to small search engines, to access content located at URLs on the light and dark web. When images are found, they are compared against a database of previously verified media. If the system detects a match (a recognized CSAM image), a takedown notice is automatically sent to request its deletion. Over the past two years, the system has found over 5.4 million CSAM images. However, progress is slow and the group faces a backlog of over 32.5 million suspicious media that have yet to be assessed.
The report names Free, which is listed on the stock exchange through parent company Iliad on Euronext Paris, as the “sole” Internet service provider responsible for “a very large volume” of abuse images. children, and not doing enough to tackle the larger problem. publish. The report adds that, during its investigation, 48% of all media of child abuse images found during the two years of its investigation (images and videos) are both ‘linked’ and physically hosted. on Free’s file hosting service.
Specifically, the report found that by using Tor-based discussion forums (part of the so-called Dark Web) and direct downloads rather than traditional web pages, “an unknown number of anonymous users can view the direct download links and passwords required. to unlock and access content, “the report states.” The known total availability of CSAM and harmful and abusive images or videos accessible through Free’s hosting service has raised more than 2.7 million flags, according to the report.
Free is one of the most popular Internet service providers in France, offering Internet, TV and landline services to homes, as well as its own mobile phone network. In its results for the first quarter of 2021, Free indicated that 3 million French households are currently subscribed to its Fiber Free broadband. In March of this year, Iliad Group posted consolidated revenues for 2020 up 10.1% to $ 7.15 billion and profits of $ 511 million. The group announced in its annual report that the dividend would rise to $ 3.66 per share.
Xavier Niel founded the company in 1996, three years after launching the first Internet service provider in France, WorldNet. Forbes estimates his net worth at $ 8.4 billion, largely thanks to his stake in Iliad.
The results of this investigation are not entirely unexpected for the management team of Niel and Iliad who have been alerted in the past to problematic content – albeit not CSAM – on their service. In October 2007, Free’s file hosting service, dl.free.fr, was criticized by the then French Minister of Culture for allowing “users to anonymously download large volumes of material. pirated ”, namely pirated movies and music,“ on dl.free. Fr.” News articles in 2007 did not detail Iliad’s response, and they did not add any further comments today.
The issue was discussed online in France at least once before the publication of the survey today. The Canadian Center for Child Protection led Forbes to an October 2019 Reddit post on a French general interest discussion forum, which stated that Free’s file hosting site, dl.free.fr, “has become the # 1 choice” in ” the exchange of child pornography content online “.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Center for Child Protection said Forbes that Free has a “legal and moral responsibility” to ensure that its services are not misused to harm children, adding that the data shows that “the service they operate is being used to render a large volume of ‘damaging images available on the Internet “.
The European Commission introduced the e-Privacy Provisional Regulation in September 2020 obliging online businesses to actively detect and remove child sexual abuse online.