Social media companies are acting like drug barons in the way they exploit children without ensuring their safety online, the chief executive of the NSPCC, Britain’s leading child protection charity has warned.In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph to open the NSPCC’s annual conference on child safety online, Peter Wanless said he was “fed up” of sitting down with firms like Facebook, Google and YouTube trying to persuade them to take effective action to protect children.For years, he said the NSPCC has campaigned for the social networking companies to design safety into their businesses such as simple technical blocks to prevent sexual predators finding children’s location, sending out mass friends requests to entrap them or invading their privacy.Yet, said Mr Wanless, it remained a “wild west web” where, according to NSPCC’s annual report ‘How safe are our children?’ to be published on Wednesday, a quarter (23.6 per cent) of children aged 11 to 16 have been contacted by an unknown adult, one in six (15.5 per cent) have been asked to supply a sexual image or message and more than 3,000 online child grooming cases have been recorded in just a year.He recalled talking privately to the NSPCC’s council last year where he contrasted how a duty of care was built into the offline world for children’s products and services – such as bans on chokeable objects, lead paint and sharp points – yet there was no equivalent duty of care in the online world. Peter Wanless in the NSPCC’s head officeCredit:Heathcliff O’Malley for The Telegraph Now it was “all to play” for with the government in the form of Mr Hancock signalling the prospect of legislation.“The companies get it up to a point. They tell us child safety is important to them. We are not here to abuse children, they say, and look at the efforts we have taken over the last years to make things better. Look at these people we have employed to make things better,” he said.“But look at what young people are experiencing and what young people are telling us at the NSPCC and all the crimes that are being committed against children. It doesn’t add up when you look through the other end of the telescope.”Protect yourself and your family. Find out more about our Duty of Care campaign to regulate social media By contrast, said Mr Wanless, you had in the offices, warehouses and bars of Shoreditch and Hoxton, the buzz of the next wave of internet entrepreneurs dreaming up new apps and web applications but without any regulatory duty of care.“All round here will be people thinking about how they hook people into something that will make money. They are not giving the first thought to children’s safety. Why would they as they are excited about new services,” he said.“But if they were aiming a product at young people that wasn’t on an online service, they would have all sorts of protections and regulations. I struggle with why some of these larger companies are not embracing minimum standards that protect children from crimes online.“I don’t know why one of them hasn’t taken the lead. It would be a brilliant decision because of the public impatience and appetite for a safer internet. But if they are not going to take advantage of that individually, let’s do it together.“The beauty of doing it together [with the government, other charities and the firms] is that we can then design the safety into the new and emerging sites. In economic terms, it is said these minimum standards are barriers of entry to new services but they feel fundamental to me.” Sitting in a fifth floor office at the NSPCC’s headquarters overlooking the trendy bars of Shoreditch and Hoxton in East London, he described how the location epitomised the battle lines between the “wild west web” and the young victims of internet predators.On the one hand you had Gemma Ward, a 17-year-old who Mr Wanless has helped at the NSPCC and who waived her right to anonymity to provide lessons for others in her experience of being groomed online aged 15.Paedophile Michael Wood, 34, messaged her through Twitter then used “emotional blackmail”, promised Coldplay tickets and begged for naked snaps before meeting and abusing her.“Gemma wrote an open letter to Matthew Hancock [the culture secretary] about the need for legislation. She wanted to help us raise awareness of being groomed online,” said Mr Wanless.“She is extraordinarily brave and determined and untypical of young people who have experienced this type of [crime]. For the majority, they are utterly ashamed, devastated and disappointed at their behaviour. Helping them to understand it is not their fault is quite a challenge.“Gemma is pretty special in the sense that she has got beyond that and is turning that experience into something she really wants to help others understand.” I struggle with why some of these larger companies are not embracing minimum standards that protect children from crimes onlinePeter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive Instead, he said: “Some of these social media companies deploy tactics that drug barons would be proud of. They are very sophisticated in hooking young people into being present on their sites and logged on with them.“This fear of missing out idea is a feature of a considerable number of anxiety-related calls that we get through Childline. There’s no doubt the number and nature of experiences with which they are seeking to hook young people can feel overwhelming to them.”He did not want statutory time limits for children as the web could benefit them educationally and socially but he believes in legally-enforced minimum standards to protect children from online abuse or crime and ensure they had a “healthy experience” on the internet.“It’s great that The Telegraph is promoting a national conversation [through its Duty of Care campaign] about all this,” he said. We all feel that everything in moderation is how life is healthy.“Yet, let’s not deny children their passions but let’s be absolutely confident that if they are online for one, three or six hours that they are not betraying their geographic location, not engaging with people that leaves them open to being groomed and potential criminal activity and even death.” In his speech to the NSPCC conference on Wednesday, which the culture secretary will also address, Mr Wanless will outline his vision for new laws including safe accounts for under 18s with high privacy settings, controls over who they connect with and clear, child-friendly rules and reporting buttons.In addition, he will say he wants the social media companies to come clean about how many safety reports and complaints they get and how they deal with them.In the past five years since he came to the NSPCC, there has been an explosion in online abuse. In 2013, there was just one person in its online safety team. Today there are 15.In the 10 years since clinical psychologist Tanya Byron, an NSPCC trustee, first proposed a voluntary code of minimum standards for social media and gaming firms, there have been 14 attempts at voluntary agreements to police the web – and none have been effective, said Mr Wanless. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.