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New report reveals UK as world leader in online safety innovation

The UK’s rapidly-growing safety tech sector is helping make the online world safer for millions of people, a report published today shows.

  • Study shows significant growth of ‘safety tech’ businesses and their importance in plans to make UK the safest place to be online
  • More than 70 companies in London, Leeds, Cambridge and Edinburgh have a quarter of global market share for safety tech products

The independent study, ‘Safer technology, safer users: The UK as a world leader in Safety Tech’, highlights significant growth within the sector, with the number of dedicated online safety firms doubling in the last five years and investment increasing more than eight-fold in 2019, making it a record year.

It shows there are almost two thousand people working in more than 70 companies across the UK, including in London, Leeds, Cambridge and Edinburgh.

Leading UK firm Crisp, based in Leeds, has created new technology that is used to detect and remove harmful content from social media and online games, contributing to the safety of an estimated two billion worldwide users each day. While London-based SuperAwesome helps more than 300 of the world’s top brands ensure their online engagements with children meet strict data privacy requirements.

The research, carried out between September 2019 and March 2020, comes as the government launches a Safety Tech Innovation Network, the world’s first forum for safety tech providers to collaborate and showcase their work, alongside a scheme to boost exports.

Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage, said:

We are all spending more time online during the pandemic and this new report shows the value the safety tech sector could add as we look to power growth out of it.

Its innovative products, many of which are developed in towns and cities across the country, are being used globally to help companies make their online platforms safer.

The government is leading the world, developing online harms laws and it’s great to see our brilliant British tech industry is part of the solution.

The companies highlighted in the report are providing tools to help protect users online and demonstrating the UK tech sector can be a central to tackling the challenge.

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. The main findings of the report are:

  • UK safety tech providers currently hold an estimated 25 per cent of the global market share
  • The number of dedicated safety tech firms has doubled in the last five years, with 70 firms identified in the report. Almost half have an international presence
  • In 2019, the sector generated £226 million in annual revenues, and has grown rapidly with an estimated 35 per cent annual growth rate since 2016
  • Some of the most established companies (those earning in excess of £5 million) have grown at rates of up to 90 per cent a year, and the report estimates that safety tech revenues could exceed £1 billion by 2025.
  • In 2015, the safety tech sector raised £6 million in external investment across ten deals. By 2019, the figure had increased more than eightfold to £51 million across nineteen deals.
  • The report anticipates the UK is likely to see its first safety tech unicorn (a company worth over $1 billion) emerge in the coming years, with three other companies also demonstrating the potential to hit unicorn status in the early 2020s.

The sector consists of companies in fields such as data and computer science providing a range of tech solutions and applications to help increase safety on websites and in apps and video games such as those allowing user-generated content and interactions.

Examples of British companies and the products and services they provide include:

  • Cyan Forensics, Cubica Technology and VigilAI are working closely with law enforcement on ‘digital forensics’ – the automated identification, location and removal of illegal child sexual abuse and terrorist material
  • Crisp, Qumodo and Spirit AI are assisting moderators of social media and gaming platforms to actively identify and respond to bullying, harassment and abuse on their platforms
  • SuperAwesome, SafeToNet, Yoti and Trust Elevate are providing tools that verify the age of users and ensure phones, tablets and the apps on them are safe and appropriate for children
  • South West Grid for Learning, Smoothwall and Opendium are filtering, blocking or blacklisting harmful content across school, business or home internet
  • Full Fact, Factmata and Astroscreen are tackling false, misleading or harmful online narratives, by providing fact-checking services or promoting trusted news and information

To further capitalise on the sector’s success, and in response to the report’s recommendations, the government is today announcing:

  • A Safety Tech Innovation Network, co-funded by Nominet, to launch later in 2020. This will be the world’s first forum for safety tech providers to collaborate and promote their work
  • A virtual safety tech expo to showcase safety tech to the world
  • A safety tech export pilot, run by the Department for International Trade, to include a directory of UK safety tech organisations and exploratory international missions – which can be virtual if necessary
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