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What the EU’s content-filtering rules could mean for UK tech

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What the EU’s content-filtering rules could mean for UK tech

EU proposals to clamp down on child sexual abuse material will have a material impact on the UK’s technology sector

Peter Ray Allison

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Published: 17 Jun 2022

On 11 May 2022, the European Commission released a proposal for a regulation for laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. The regulation would establish preventative measures against child sexual abuse material (CSAM) being distributed online.

Although the UK is no longer part of the European Union (EU), any UK companies wishing to operate within the world’s largest trading bloc will need to abide by EU standards. As such, this regulation would have an enormous impact on online communications services and platforms in the UK and around the world.

Some online platforms already detect, report and remove online CSAM. However, such measures vary between providers and the EU has decided that voluntary action alone is insufficient. Some EU member states have proposed or adopted their own legislation to tackle online CSAM, but this could fragment the EU’s vision of a united Digital Single Market.

This is not first time that content scanning has been attempted. In 2021, Apple proposed scanning owners’ devices for CSAM using client-side scanning (CSS). This would allow CSAM filtering to be conducted without breaching end-to-end encryption. However, the backlash against this proposal led the idea being postponed indefinitely.

At its core, the EU regulation will require “relevant information society services” to enact the following measures (Article 1):

  • Minimise the risk that their services are misused for online child sexual abuse.
  • Detect and report online child sexual abuse.
  • Remove or disable access to child sexual abuse material on their services.

Article 2 describes “relevant information society services” as any of the following:

  • Online hosting service – a hosting service that consists of the storage of information provided by, and at the request of, a recipient of the service.
  • Interpersonal communications service – a service that enables direct interpersonal and interactive exchange of information via electronic communications networks between a finite number of persons, whereby the persons initiating or participating in the communication determine its recipient(s), including those provided as an ancillary feature that is intrinsically linked to another service.
  • Software applications stores – online intermediation services, which are focused on software applications as the intermediated product or service.
  • Internet access services – publicly available electronic communications service that provides access to the internet, and thereby connectivity to virtually all end-points of the internet, irrespective of the network technology and terminal equipment used.

The regulation would establish the EU Centre to create and maintain databases of indicators of online CSAM. This database would be used by information society services in order to comply with the regulation. The EU Centre would also act as a liaison to Europol, by first filtering any reports of CSAM that are unfounded – “Where it is immediately evident, without any substantive legal or factual analysis, that the reported activities do not constitute online child sexual abuse” – and then forwarding the others to Europol for further investigation and analysis.

Fundamental rights

A major concern about this regulation is that the content filtering of private messages would impinge on users’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The regulation does not merely propose scanning the metadata of messages, but the content of all messages for any offending material. “The European Court of Justice has made it clear, time and time again, that a mass surveillance of private communications is unlawful and incompatible with fundamental rights,” says Felix Reda, an expert in copyright and freedom of communication for Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte.

These concerns are acknowledged in the proposed regulation, which states: “The measures contained in the proposal affect, in the first place, the exercise of the fundamental rights of the users of the services at issue. Those rights include, in particular, the fundamental rights to respect for privacy (including confidentiality of communications, as part of the broader right to respect for private and family life), to protection of personal data and to freedom of expression and information.”

However, the proposed regulation also considers that none of these rights should be absolute. It states: “In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration.”

There is also the issue of the potential erroneous removal of material – due to the mistaken assumption that said material concerns child sexual abuse material – which can have significant impact on a user’s fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information.

Enacting the regulation

Article 10 (1) of the proposed regulation states: “Providers of hosting services and providers of interpersonal communication services that have received a detection order shall execute it by installing and operating technologies to detect the dissemination of known or new child sexual abuse material or the solicitation of children, as applicable.”

However, unlike previous regulations, the necessary technical measures for establishing how online platforms can meet the requirements are not outlined in the proposed regulation. Instead, it gives platforms and providers flexibility in how they implement these measures, so the regulatory obligations can be embedded effectively within each service.

“You notice in the introduction that it doesn’t necessarily well define what a provider is and it doesn’t necessarily define how well one has to scan things,” says Jon Geater, CTO of RKVST.

According to Section 10 (3), once a detection order has been issued, the content filters will be expected to meet these criteria:

  • Detecting the dissemination of known or new CSAM or the solicitation of children.
  • Not extract any information, other what is necessary for the purposes of detection.
  • In accordance with the state of the art in the industry and the least intrusive in terms of the impact on the users’ rights to private and family life.
  • Sufficiently reliable, such that they minimise false positives.

But in order to detect CSAM or solicitation of children, content scanning of every communication would be required. The current proposal does not define what is considered to be a “sufficiently reliable” benchmark for minimal false positives. “It’s not feasible for us or anybody else to be 100% effective, and it’s probably not very sensible for everybody to try their own attempt at doing it,” says Geater.

To help businesses meet these new regulatory obligations, the EU Centre will offer detection technologies free of charge. These will be intended for the sole purpose of executing the detection orders. This is explained in Article 50 (1), which states: “The EU Centre shall make available technologies that providers of hosting services and providers of interpersonal communications services may acquire, install and operate, free of charge, where relevant subject to reasonable licensing conditions, to execute detection orders in accordance with Article 10(1).”

Should a provider or platform choose to develop their own detection systems, Article 10 (2) states: “The provider shall not be required to use any specific technology, including those made available by the EU Centre, as long as the requirements set out in this Article are met.”

Although these detection technologies will be freely offered, the regulation nonetheless places huge demands on social media providers and communication platforms. Providers will be required to ensure human oversight, through analysing anonymised representative data samples. “We view this as a very specialist area, so we have a third-party supplier who provides scanning tools,” says Geater.

According to Article 24 (1), any technology company that comes under the purview of  “relevant information society services” operating within the EU will require a legal representative within one of the EU’s member states. At the very least, this could be a team of solicitors as the point of contact.

Any platform or service provider that fails to comply with this regulation will face penalties of up to 6% of its annual income or global turnover. Supplying incorrect, incomplete or misleading information, as well as failing to revise said information, will result in penalties of up 1% of annual income or global turnover. Any periodic penalty payments could be up to 5% of average daily global turnover.

Concerns remain

One aspect that is particularly concerning is that there are no exemptions for different types of communication. Legal, financial and medical information that is shared online within the EU will be subject to scanning, which could lead to confidentiality and security issues.

In October 2021, a report into CSS by a group of experts, including Ross Anderson, professor at the University of Cambridge, was published on the open-access website arXiv. The report concluded: “It is unclear whether CSS systems can be deployed in a secure manner such that invasions of privacy can be considered proportional. More importantly, it is unlikely that any technical measure can resolve this dilemma while also working at scale.”

Ultimately, the regulation will place significant demands on social media platforms and internet-based communication services. It will especially impact smaller companies that do not have the necessary resources or expertise to accommodate these new regulatory requirements.

Although service providers and platforms could choose not to operate within EU countries, thus negating these requirements, this approach is likely to be self-destructive because of the massive limitation in userbase. It would also raise ethical questions if a company were seen to be avoiding the issue of CSAM being distributed on its platform. It is also likely that similar legislation could be put in place elsewhere, especially for any country wishing to harmonise its legislation with the EU.

It would therefore be prudent to mitigate the impact of this proposed regulation by preparing for the expected obligations and having the appropriate policies and resources in place, enabling businesses to swiftly adapt to this new regulatory environment and manage the financial impact.





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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are
A player shouldering the ball



(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 23 might be the best game soccer game yet for terrible sports fans, as it lets you turn off commentary that criticizes your bad playing.

Now that the early access FIFA 23 release time has passed, EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can hop into the game ahead of its full release. But as Eurogamer (opens in new tab) spotted, they’ll find a peculiar option waiting for them.

FIFA 23 includes a toggle to turn off ‘Critical Commentary’. The setting lets you silence all negative in-match comments made about your technique, so you can protect your precious ego even when you miss an open goal or commit an obvious foul. The more positive commentary won’t be affected. 

Spare your feelings

A player dribbling the ball in FIFA 23

(Image credit: EA)

The feature looks tailored toward children and new players, who don’t want to have their confidence wrecked within mere minutes of picking up the controller. But even experienced players who just so happen to be terrible at the game might benefit.

It’s not perfect, though. According to Eurogamer, the feature didn’t seem to work during a FIFA Ultimate Team Division Rivals match, with critical comments slipping through the filter. Still, who hasn’t benefited from a light grilling every now and then?

Polite commentary isn’t the only new addition in FIFA 23. It’s the first game in the series to include women’s club football teams, and fancy overhauled animations that take advantage of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S’s new-gen hardware. EA will be hoping to end on a high, as FIFA 23 will be the last of its soccer games to release with the official FIFA licence.

If disabling critical commentary doesn’t improve your soccer skills, maybe building a squad of Marvel superheroes will. Although you might not do much better with Ted Lasso wandering the pitch.

FIFA 23 is set to fully release this Friday, September 30.

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games. 

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch
The backs of the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro



(Image credit: Google)

We’re starting to hear more and more Google Pixel 7 leaks, with the launch of the phone just a week away, but tech fans might be getting a lot of déjà vu, with the leaks all listing near-identical specs to what we heard about the Pixel 6 a year ago.

It sounds like the new phones – a successor to the Pixel 6 Pro is also expected – could be very similar to their 2021 predecessors. And a new price leak has suggested that the phones’ costs could be the same too, as a Twitter user spotted the Pixel 7 briefly listed on Amazon (before being promptly taken down, of course).

Google pixel 7 on Amazon US. $599.99.It is still showing up in search cache but the listing gives an error if you click on it. We have the B0 number to keep track of though!#teampixel pic.twitter.com/w5Z09D28YESeptember 27, 2022

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According to these listings, the Pixel 7 will cost $599 while the Pixel 7 Pro will cost $899, both of which are identical to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting prices. The leak doesn’t include any other region prices, but in the UK the current models cost £599 and £849, while in Australia they went for AU$999 and AU$1,299.

So it sounds like Google is planning on retaining the same prices for its new phones as it sold the old ones for, a move which doesn’t make much sense.


Analysis: same price, new world

Google’s choice to keep the same price points is a little curious when you consider that the specs leaks suggest these phones are virtually unchanged from their predecessors. You’re buying year-old tech for the same price as before.

Do bear in mind that the price of tech generally lowers over time, so you can readily pick up a cheaper Pixel 6 or 6 Pro right now, and after the launch of the new ones, the older models will very likely get even cheaper.

But there’s another key factor to consider in the price: $599 might be the same number in 2022 as it was in 2021, but with the changing global climate, like wars and flailing currencies and cost of living crises, it’s a very different amount of money.

Some people just won’t be willing to shell out the amount this year, that they may have been able to last year. But this speaks to a wider issue in consumer tech.

Google isn’t the only tech company to completely neglect the challenging global climate when pricing its gadgets: Samsung is still releasing super-pricey folding phones, and the iPhone 14 is, for some incomprehensible reason, even pricier than the iPhone 13 in some regions. 

Too few brands are actually catering to the tough economic times many are facing right now, with companies increasing the price of their premium offerings to counter rising costs, instead of just designing more affordable alternatives to flagships.

These high and rising prices suggest that companies are totally out of touch with their buyers, and don’t understand the economic hardship troubling many.

We’ll have to reach a breaking point sooner or later, either with brands finally clueing into the fact that they need to release cheaper phones, or with customers voting with their wallets by sticking to second-hand or refurbished devices. But until then, you can buy the best cheap phones to show that cost is important to you.

Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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