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Caroline Dinenage

Minister for Digital and Culture

Caroline Dinenage: The UK’s safety tech scene is thriving

With more people than ever before spending time online during the pandemic, a new report published today shows British safety tech companies are at the forefront of the global fight to keep them safe as they surf.

The technologies and services this sector produces are reducing the risks users – particularly children – face from harmful content, contact or conduct on the websites, apps or video games they enjoy.

The landmark independent study shines a spotlight on the strength and growth potential of this emerging sector, which will play a key role in achieving our aim for the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online and help spur new economic growth as part of our recovery from the pandemic.

In the last five years the sector has doubled in size and investment has increased more than eightfold to a record 2019, with £51m raised across nineteen deals. Consisting of seventy innovative firms across regional hubs in Edinburgh, Cambridge, Leeds and London, the sector includes long standing non-profits from the UK’s academic and charitable sectors which have been fighting for a safer internet for years.

But it’s the commercial firms, from startups to substantial companies scaling rapidly, which show the sector is at the forefront in developing cutting-edge products used by businesses the world over to make online platforms safer. Half have an international presence, and UK providers of online safety tech currently hold up to a quarter of the global market share.

While the research for the report was carried out prior to the impact of coronavirus, high growth rates are still projected for the safety tech sector driven by increased demand for their products. Leeds-based firm Crisp has said it is seeing increased inbound demand for its solutions in the first five months of the year.

The report predicts the UK is likely to see its first safety tech unicorn – firms valued at over $1bn – emerge in the coming years, with three other companies demonstrating the potential to hit unicorn status in the early 2020s.

Firms such as SuperAwesome, SafeToNet and Qumodo help protect children and vulnerable users from harmful or illegal content, including cyberbullying, grooming and self-harm material. They use AI and machine learning to help human moderators better identify and remove these harms from social media sites.

Companies including Cyan Forensics, Cubica Technology and VigilAI are advancing the speed of ‘digital forensics’ and helping law enforcement identify despicable child sex abuse images and videos on devices within minutes. Full Fact and Factmata are leading the fight for truth online by debunking disinformation and misleading narratives spread either maliciously or inadvertently.

In government we are developing world-leading laws to achieve our aim of making the UK the safest place in the world to go online and to support a thriving digital economy.

We will legislate to introduce a new duty of care so people receive the best possible protection against online harms, that online companies uphold their own terms and conditions, and do all they can to ensure illegal content is identified and removed.

Countries worldwide are waking up to the threat of online harms and following our lead. These companies prove there is real value in helping businesses build safer online communities, and they are well placed to step up to assist compliance with future regulation.

We should all sit up and take notice of the safety tech sector. Investors already are. There is enormous potential for these sustainable, high-tech, regional companies to drive growth and keep internet users safe in a new pro-innovation regulatory environment.

As one SME notes in the report: “The greater the revenue we generate, the further we can invest in enhancing our platform, and the more people we will protect from harm.”