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Billionaire Xavier Niel’s Telecom Large Free Hosted 48% Of Little one Intercourse Abuse Imagery Discovered Throughout Two-12 months Investigation, Says Nonprofit Group

Xavier Niel, majority shareholder of Iliad

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Free, the French telecommunications giant, majority-owned by billionaire Xavier Niel, is not doing enough to combat the images of child sexual abuse on its servers, according to The Canadian Center for Child Protection. The nonprofit group claims that nearly half of the child sexual abuse (CSAM) material discovered during a two-year investigation was “physically hosted” and downloaded through Free’s telecommunications services.

The research report, released on Wednesday, examined the availability of child sexual abuse material and the role of electronic service providers in its dissemination, and found that Free was used by those who captured around 1.1 million images or video files of suspected CSAM. “Host and share”. or harmful content between 2018 and 2020.

In the report, titled Project Arachnid, the Canadian Center for Child Protection says those wishing to spread CSAM “have used Free’s hosting service to anonymously store media online and then use the direct download link on forums on the To spread the Internet ”.

There is currently no evidence that Free or majority owner Xavier Niel, who holds over 70% of parent company Iliad, was aware of the problem. Xavier Niel and Iliad did not respond to the allegations or answer Forbes’ questions after being brought to their attention this morning.

The struggle to remove CSAM

The founder of the French telecommunications and internet company Iliad, Xavier Niel

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The Canadian Center for Child Protection has taken up the battle to remove CSAM from the Internet by targeting the web services infrastructure it is uploaded to). Project Arachnid does not claim to have discovered the entire universe of CSAM on the internet. Search uses “web crawlers” or bots, similar to small search engines, to access content found under URLs on the clear and dark web. When images are found, they are compared to a database of previously verified media. When the system detects a match – a recognized CSAM image – a deactivation request is automatically sent requesting removal. In the past two years, the system has found more than 5.4 million CSAM images. However, progress is slow and the group is facing a backlog of more than 32.5 million suspicious media that have yet to be evaluated.


The report points to Free, publicly traded through parent group Iliad on Euronext Paris, as the “only” internet service provider responsible for “a very significant volume” of child abuse images and not doing enough to appeal to the wider public to address problem. The report adds that during the investigation, 48% of all image media (pictures and videos) of child abuse found in the two years of the investigation are both “linked” and physically hosted on Free’s file hosting service.

In particular, the report found that by using Tor-based chat forums (part of the so-called dark web) and direct downloads instead of traditional websites, “an unknown number of anonymous users can see the required direct download links and passwords”. to unlock and access the content, ”the report says. The total known availability of CSAM and malicious, abusive images or videos accessible through Free’s hosting service has raised more than 2.7 million flags, according to the report.

Free is one of the most popular internet providers in France and offers internet, TV and landline services for private households as well as its own mobile network. In its results for the first quarter of 2021, Free announced that 3 million French households are currently subscribing to its fiber-free broadband. In March of this year, the Iliad Group posted consolidated sales of 10.1% to $ 7.15 billion and profits of $ 511 million. The corporation announced in its annual report that the dividend will rise to $ 3.66 per share.

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Xavier Niel, CEO of Illiad, Bernard Arnault, CEO of the LVMH Group, and Alexandre Arnault

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Xavier Niel founded the company in 1996, three years after France’s first internet provider WorldNet was founded. Forbes estimates his net worth at $ 8.4 billion, largely thanks to his stake in Iliad.


The results of this research don’t come entirely out of the blue for Niel and Iliad’s leadership team, who have historically been made aware of problematic content – albeit not CSAM – in their service. In October 2007, Frees filehosting service – – was criticized by the then French Minister of Culture for “allowing users to anonymously upload large amounts of pirated copies” – namely pirated copies of films and music – ”on fr. ”The 2007 news did not provide details on Iliad’s reaction and they did not add any further comments today.

The issue was discussed online in France at least once before the research was published today. The Canadian Center for Child Protection referred Forbes to an October 2019 Reddit post on a general French discussion forum claiming that Free’s file hosting site has become “the first choice” in “child pornography sharing” be content on the Internet. ”

A spokesman for the Canadian Center for Child Protection told Forbes that Free has a “legal and moral responsibility” to ensure that its services are not misused to harm children, adding that the data shows that “the service operated by them is used to present a large amount of malicious images on the Internet. “

In September 2020, the European Commission introduced the provisional e-privacy regulation, which obliges online companies to actively identify and eliminate sexual abuse of children on the Internet.