If the internet is a Wild West, then the safety tech sheriffs are coming to town. But how can we make sure they win?
The internet as we know it today has its origins in several ideals: communication, collaboration, egalitarianism — a way of sharing knowledge, improving access to information and ultimately connecting people from all over the world. It is now impossible to imagine life without this technology. However, as internet use has grown, so has the potential to inflict harm on its users.
Governments have struggled with the thorny issue of internet regulation for years, with the complexity of the problem - including the sheer number of potential harms, the need to respect peoples' privacy, and the rapidly evolving technology landscape making it incredibly difficult to address.
That said, just as technology is partly responsible for the problem, it may also be able to contribute to the solution.
Enter safety technology, or safety tech, and the businesses developing technology solutions to keep people safe online. They aim to protect users, especially children and vulnerable adults, from online harms, which range from cyberbullying and misinformation to child sexual exploitation and extremism.
Safety tech — A growing sector
The UK safety tech sector is an exciting new industry, emerging as a response to greater internet use in all areas of our lives, and a corresponding increased potential for harm. Currently in its early stages, with around 100 providers, the safety tech sector is growing rapidly, expecting to see £1bn revenue by 2024. It will need the right people, with the right skills and capabilities, in order to create and sustain that growth.
TPXimpact was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to conduct research into the safety tech sector’s access to talent, with a particular focus on access to the skills and capabilities needed for digital, data and technology roles so crucial to its success.
Our squad conducted qualitative analysis with a representative sample of safety tech companies, accompanied by desk research and quantitative analysis of job posting data. We worked in the open, playing back our findings to government and industry to ensure we accurately reflected the state of the sector and maximised opportunities for feedback.
The state of play in the safety tech sector
Our research shows that safety tech is a hugely inspiring sector. As well as using innovative technologies, it has an incredibly compelling mission that results in the high retention of staff and evangelism for the companies involved. In other words, businesses are doing work that people believe in: positively impacting online experiences and protecting people — particularly the vulnerable — from harm.
Nevertheless, safety tech businesses do face a set of challenges in achieving this mission. We categorised these concerns into four main themes:
- attracting suitably skilled technical candidates
- creating a diverse workforce
- prioritising data privacy and security
- keeping users at the centre of the development process
In some ways, these challenges are shared by the wider tech sector as a whole. Yet for safety tech, tackling them is all the more pressing, because of the high stakes in what the sector is trying to achieve.
Recommendations — and some further reading
In our research report, Safety tech in the UK: Skills and Capabilities, we propose a set of recommendations for DCMS and the safety tech industry to take up over the coming year, to put in place the scaffolding required for the continued fast yet sustainable growth of this sector. We believe that following these recommendations will position the safety tech sector as an exemplar for the wider technology industry.
To learn more about the safety tech sector, how businesses are protecting us online and how we can hope to fortify the industry for the future, read the report on GOV.UK.