Verizon Faces First-Ever Shareholder Proposal on Child Sex Abuse Online

On May 2, a group of investors are presenting the first shareholder resolution to come to a vote on the growing risk of child sex exploitation online at Verizon Communications’ annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. The filers, representing faith-based and high-net-worth investors with more than $27M in shares, are calling on the largest telecom in the U.S. to increase its efforts to protect children online from sexual abuse and grooming. The investors note in the proposal that parental controls have not been enough to protect child users, and that companies like Verizon are at the intersection of a spectrum of technologies that are putting children at increased risk. The largest proxy voting advisory firm in the world, Institutional Shareholder Services, recommends support for this proposal.

Verizon’s Tumblr was proven to be sharing child sex content last November, and was kicked off of Apple’s App Store because of it. The company has also faced significant fines in 2018 related to the illegal collection and selling of child user data.

The lead filer of the proposal, CBIS, is concerned by the flood of child sex imagery and conduct occurring online. The major hotline for reporting child sex abuse in the U.S. — the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — has reported receiving more than 45 million child sex images and videos to its Cyber Tipline in 2018.

Along with CBIS and Proxy Impact, other co-filers of the proposal include the Maryknoll Sisters, the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, and the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that “mobile devices have fundamentally changed the way offenders can abuse children,” and “apps on these devices can be used to target, recruit or groom, and coerce children,” or to “stream video of child sexual abuse” in real-time. INTERPOL notes that only 4,000 unique child sex images were circulating in 1995. Today, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates at least 50,000 new images hitting the web each year.

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