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New research project develops app to counter online child abuse

Published: 06th March 2023 Last updated: 06th March 2023

Tilburg University is participating in a major EU-funded research project to reduce the growing demand for online images depicting sexual abuse of children. The project focuses on preventing potential perpetrators from viewing and sharing abuse images. This is done with the help of an app that tracks the user's network traffic and screen in real time, and that detects and blocks images depicting abuse before the user sees them.

The two-year Protech project, starting this March, aims to research, design and create an app that can be installed - on a voluntary basis - on the devices of individuals at risk of accessing material depicting child sexual abuse, or who are concerned about their sexual thoughts about children. The app is potentially an essential tool for the sustainable, long-term prevention of child abuse.

From Tilburg University Professor of Developmental Disorders and Forensic Psychology Stefan Bogaerts, Assistant Professor Elien de Caluwé and PhD candidate Manon Kleijn (Department of Developmental Psychology) are involved in the project: "Sexual abuse online is a complex and multidimensional problem with no simple solutions. Digital technology can play a role in reducing online sexual abuse, but it is essential that users feel safe to use it. This can be done by providing certain features and measures that enhance user safety, such as security and privacy settings, notification and blocking options. In addition, there should be ongoing investment in raising users' awareness about online safety and preventing sexual abuse. Prevention of sexual abuse online is a joint responsibility of tech companies, science, government and society. Together we can work to change the culture and create a safe online environment for all users."

The European Commission is awarding €1.8 million to develop the app. The Protech project is led by one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, Charité -Universitätsmedizin Berlin (CUB), in collaboration with experts from diverse and broad fields such as criminology, public health, developmental, clinical and forensic psychology, software engineering, child protection and Internet safety.

More information

For questions, please email Stefan Bogaerts at PROTECH_TIU@Tilburguniversity.edu