Microsoft rep calls Catholic Church a key ally in protecting kids online

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: Luxerendering/Shutterstock.
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Credit: Luxerendering/Shutterstock.

.- The head of Microsoft's office for online safety has said the Catholic Church is a key ally in the ongoing effort to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation online.

When asked why a major tech company would partner with the Catholic Church on such an important issue, Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer for Microsoft Inc., had a simple response: “why not?”

Beauchere spoke during an Oct. 3-6 conference on Child Dignity in the Digital World, addressing the topic of “How Do Internet Providers and Software Developers Define Their Responsibility and Limits of Cooperation Regarding Safeguarding of Minors.”

Speaking with a small group of journalists at the conference, Beauchere said, “why would you not take advantage of such a huge platform and such a huge array of people to make people aware of the situation?”

Beauchere said she is willing to collaborate with “anyone who wants to talk about these issues,” because “we all can learn from one another. And the only way we're going to get better, the only way we're going to do and learn more is to really expand the dialogue.”

She also spoke about the future steps and investments technology companies can make in helping to fight online child exploitation, and action-points for the future, including some highlights from a joint-declaration from conference participants that will be presented to Pope Francis in an audience tomorrow.

Beauchere was one of two representatives of major tech organizations present at the conference, the other being Dr. Antigone Davies, Head of Global Safety Policy for Facebook.

Organized by the Pontifical Gregorian University's Center for Child Protection in collaboration with the UK-based global alliance WePROTECT and the organization “Telefono Azzurro,” which is the first Italian helpline for children at risk.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin opened the conference as a keynote speaker. Other participants in the congress include social scientists, civic leaders, and religious representatives. Discussion points include prevention of abuse, pornography, the responsibility of internet providers and the media, and ethical governance.


Please read below for excerpts of Beauchere's conversation with journalists:

Thank you for your time. It was very interesting to hear what Microsoft is doing to combat this issue. But many speakers that followed you said that more could be done as far as investments and money being put into helping in NGOs that are working to help in this issue, and technologies that can be put into fighting this issue. What is your response? What can be done in the future to address this call to action?

I would say the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and we can all do more. We can all do better. We just have to determine what is going to be the best root to direct our resources. So we come at the at the problem from a technology perspective, from an internal governance perspective with policies and standards and procedures, with education and with partnerships. We are already supporting a number of organizations, which I noted in my remarks. We are on the board for the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, I personally sit on the board of the WeProtect organization. I sit on the board of the In Hope organization, I used to sit on the board, now another colleague does, of the Technology Coalition. That's all technologies coming together to come up with technical solutions, other operational means, to alleviate the problem. So there are many things we are dong, it's a question of we have so precious few resources – we're given budgets like every one ounce. We don't get an unlimited pot of money, so we have to decide where are we going to put our efforts and what is going to deliver the most bang for the buck.

And where do you see this money being used most importantly?

I think efforts like this that really bring together a multitude of stakeholders. As I said, technology companies work together. Sometimes I feel like I work and talk to Twitter and Google and YouTube and Facebook more so in a week than I do with my own colleagues at Microsoft, so we're always working together. Civil society works together. Academia works together. Government works together. But now we need to bring all of those stakeholders together. WeProtect started that effort, but I could say that there are really only four stakeholder groups there: that would be the technology companies, governments, law enforcement and civil society. But now with this world congress we're expanding to include the Church and faith-based organizations, to include a broader array of academics, to include the public health sector. Now, with more people it could sometimes present a little bit more conflict, or hiccups or hurdles that we're going to have to get over, but we're going to have to find a way that we're all going to have to agree on certain things, and then build from there.

On a practical level, you've spoken about all the boards and committees that you are a part of, and it's really important to be a part of that conversation, but if you were going to tell me now where you are going to allocate your resources next as the frontier of where to fight this issue, where do you see the challenges and problems? Where should that money be allocated?

It has to be invested in technology. But technology investments don't pay off immediately, they take time. So a lot of people are asking, 'can't you just invent a technology that can determine that that's a child sexual abuse image, and then it won't be uploaded from the get-go?' This is artificial intelligence, this is machine learning, it's only been in recent years that we've been able to identify, via artificial intelligence and via machine learning, that a cat is a cat. So when you put in the complex scenarios of the parade of horribles that could happen to a child, and the different actors that are involved in those scenarios and the different body parts, and the different scenes and places where things could happen as far as these crimes, you're adding so much more complexity. So there's a lot of work. These technology investments are not going to pay off immediately. I think people look at technology and they think it's a silver bullet, they think that technology created these problems, so technology should fix them. Number one, technology didn't create these problems, and number two, technology alone cannot solve them. So technology investments are key, but they're not going to pay off immediately. So these kinds of efforts that are multi-party, multi-focused, multi-pronged and faceted, that's where we need to put our efforts and I think the money will follow. The money will follow what proves the most successful or will at least show the most promise.

In terms of investment, many of the speakers addressed or were from areas of the world that are not as developed in technology, but are starting to gain access to the internet and don't have the background or the education about what it can do. In terms of investment, do you guys have plans to address this issue in some of these nations that are not as developed?

We have educational and awareness raising resources available everywhere. Personally I see the developing world as an opportunity. Yes they are gaining access to technology quicker, but they have the ability to learn from the Western world and the mistakes that we made, and they have the ability and the opportunity to do things right from the ground up. They just can't let the technology get ahead of them, they have to really incorporate the learning and the awareness raising and some of the good, healthy practices and habits, developing those habits for going online and keeping oneself and one's family safe. But I see it as more of an opportunity than as a problem.

You mentioned that you are also trying to broaden your network of allies in fighting this issue, so why broaden it to faith-based organizations, why come to a Jesuit university to participate in this conference?

I say why not? Why would you not take advantage of such a huge platform and such a huge array of people to make aware of the situation. These are very difficult conversations to have. People don't want, whether it's people in government or elsewhere, they don't want to acknowledge that these issues exist. It's a very delicate topic, it's a very sensitive topic, in some instances it's taboo, so it's been very refreshing to have a new outlet, to have a new audience, to potentially involve new stakeholders, and to see how people are coming to the issue and addressing it very directly, and very head-on, and being very open and transparent about what's happening in their countries, and about how serious these situations and these issues are. So I will collaborate, I will work with anyone who wants to talk about these issues, we all can learn from one another. And the only way we're going to get better, the only way we're going to do and learn more is to really expand the dialogue.

You mentioned that a lot of people say that it's all technology's fault. So what can technology do to help in the issue and what should people perhaps take into their own hands?

People need to own their own presence online and they need to know what they are doing. They need to safeguard their own reputation. So there are certain habits and practices that they could develop, we offer a wealth of materials on our website. One thing I want to point out about people and their own learning is sometimes, unfortunately, that leaning comes a little bit too late. We were discussing this in my workshop. It's been my experience that what drives people to action, and I'm talking about pro-action, is something bad happening to them. Their identity has been stolen, so now I need to go figure out how to protect myself from identity theft. A child's been bullied, now I need to go figure out what's been happening with online bullying. Unfortunately we want to galvanize people and rally them to take some proactive steps to safeguard their reputations, to know who and with whom they are talking, to know what they are sharing online, to be discreet where discretion is warranted. That's not suppressing the kinds of engagements, and connections and interactions they want to have, but that's doing so with eyes wide open, and that's doing so with a healthy dose of reality and of what could potentially go wrong and of being aware of risks. I know there was a first part to your question...

What can technology do when it comes to this issue, but what are it's limits?

Well technology can always help, and we tell people to get help from technology. So technology can help determine for instance, what parents want their kids to see online, what websites they want them to go to, who they want them to communicate with. Some people call them “family controls,” at Microsoft we call them “family safety settings.” And they're right there in your Windows operating system, in your Xbox live console, so that is our obligation, that is our obligation as a technology company, t put those kinds of tools and resources into the product itself to help people, and to give them the tools they need to better educate themselves, make them aware of these issues, and to hopefully get them to want to teach others, to inform others. So it very much is a multi-stakeholder issue, it's everyone's problem and it's everyone's opportunity.

Are you going to the meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow?

Absolutely. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Are you Catholic?

Yes, I am. I spoke with my priest before I came here, because I was a bit overwhelmed.

What do you expect from that meeting, what do you hope is going to come out of that meeting tomorrow with the Pope?

Well he's going to be presented with this declaration, which is a series of commitments, or calls to action, for every stakeholder group who was present at this congress, and it has the ability to be monumental. I really hope there is a follow-up and follow-through, because I have attended things like this before, not of this magnitude, where everyone is so excited and so jazzed to take this forward, and there's very little follow-up and follow-through, and I personally am someone who always wants to do more and to continue. I don't sign up to anything, I don't commit to anything unless I'm going to be fully in.

In many ways Pope Francis has helped put climate change and immigration into the minds of policy makers. Do you think he has the ability to put the protection of minors up there?

Of course, of course.

Some have said there is perhaps anti-Catholic, anti-religious sentiment in Silicon Valley. Will they listen to the Church on this?

Well, we're not in Silicon Valley, so I can't attest to what's going on in Silicon Valley, but I personally don't see it. When I told my manager, my boss, that I had the ability to come here, he said, 'get me an invitation, too.' That was very wonderful to hear, and I did get him an invitation, but unfortunately he changed roles and he didn't think it was particularly relevant for him to come and though that since he's not in the same role perhaps he should not. So I'm the only one here for Microsoft, but I'm here.

Tags: Child Protection

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