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Academics reveal UK as a world leader in safety tech

Research sheds new light on cybercrime prevention

Academics from the University of East London have advised on a major UK government report that reveals the country as a world leader in safety tech and emphasises the ways the industry can help protect people in the cyberworld.

Professor Julia Davidson said, “This research highlights the essential role of the UK safety tech sector, which will increase exponentially, particularly in the current Covid-19 context.

“The sector will play a vital role in responding to online harms and protecting vulnerable users, particularly children. This report not only highlights the significance of safety tech to the UK economy, but also the level of creative enterprise and innovation underpinning its growth.”

This is a key area of research at the University and builds upon work undertaken by Professor Davidson at the newly formed Online Harms and Cybercrime Unit (OHCCU) which has been central in informing the development of the UK government’s Online Harms White Paper 2019. The Unit, which is part of the University’s School of Business and Law, will continue to examine the safety tech sector as an area of exploration and research.

Professor Davidson and colleague Associate Professor Mary Aiken followed up previous work with the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport to advise on the new report Safer Technology, Safer Users: The UK as a World Leader in Safety Tech, led by Sam Donaldson from Perspective Economics.

Professor Aiken said, “This landmark UK safety tech sector study is an important step forward in the global fight against illegal and harmful content online and is particularly relevant during the lockdown as children and young people are spending a disproportionate amount of time online and are therefore at greater risk in terms of harm. 

“Cybercriminals have been adept at exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic capitalising on the anxieties and fears of their victims and spreading mis/disinformation.”   

The report concluded that a quarter of the world’s safety tech providers are estimated to originate from the UK. More than 70 companies based in British cities have a lion’s share of global market share for safety tech products.

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.

This report highlights how the creativity and passion of the UK tech sector can lead the world with new solutions to tackle online harms. The report cites examples ranging from technology used to detect and remove harmful content from social media and online games, online filter makers for schools and fact-checking organisations tackling false information.

Professor Verity Brown, pro-vice chancellor for impact and innovation at the University of East London said, “As part of the University’s Vision 2028, our research focuses on creating meaningful impact on society. The Online Harms and Cybercrime Unit continues to carry out research that meets – and exceeds – that standard.

“This latest example of their expertise – carried out on behalf of the government – sheds new light on what has been a little known but clearly significant sector of the digital economy.”

The research was carried out by the University of East London and Perspective Economics between September 2019 and March 2020.

It predicts that the UK is likely to see its first safety tech unicorn – a company worth more than one billion dollars – landing in the coming years.

The main findings of the report are:

  • UK providers of online safety tech currently hold an estimated 25 per cent of the global market share.
  • The number of dedicated online 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.