Google and Microsoft agree steps to block abuse images

 
Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell The Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell cases raised the issue of online images

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Leading search engine companies Google and Microsoft have agreed measures to make it harder to find child abuse images online.

As many as 100,000 search terms will now return no results that find illegal material, and will trigger warnings that child abuse imagery is illegal.

PM David Cameron has welcomed the move but said it must be delivered or he would bring forward new legislation.

Child protection experts have warned most images are on hidden networks.

In July, Mr Cameron called on Google and Microsoft's Bing - which together account for 95% of search traffic - to do more to prevent people getting access to illegal images.

He said they needed to ensure that searches which were unambiguously aimed at finding illegal images should return no results.

The issue of online images showing the sexual abuse of children has made headlines in recent months after the convictions of Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger for the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones.

Both Hazell and Bridger were known to have sought out and viewed child abuse images online.

On Monday, Downing Street said the government would be checking to see that internet companies acted "urgently" .

Google and Microsoft joined other internet firms, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and charities at Downing Street for an internet safety summit earlier.

At the meeting, the NCA's director general said initial tests showed that changes introduced by the search engines were working.

The prime minister told the meeting the UK would hold an international summit on the issue next year, with a "specific focus on protecting the victims of online child abuse".

What difference have today's measures by Google and Microsoft made?

Alert warning

Typing "child pornography" in to Google's search engine now brings up a set of search results that include warnings that child abuse imagery is illegal.

The first three links are all related to reporting disturbing images or seeking help if you think you or someone you know has a problem with child abuse images.

The first link is an advert that links to a Google statement about protecting children from sexual abuse. The next link directs you to the Internet Watch Foundation, where you can report criminal online content, and a link to Stop it Now advises users how they can get help and advice.

The remaining search results are mainly news stories from around the world reporting on child abuse images.

Speaking after the summit, Mr Cameron said the next stage was to target the "dark internet" - where people share images online without making them publicly available.

He said Britain would work with other countries and use its "best brains" to catch people who share images of child abuse.

New software

Now both companies have introduced new algorithms [software instructions] that will prevent searches for child abuse imagery delivering results that could lead to such material.

Google communications director Peter Barron said the changes, which had cleaned up the results for more than 100,000 queries that might be related to the sexual abuse of children, would make it "much, much more difficult to find this content online".

"We're agreed that child sexual imagery is a case apart, it's illegal everywhere in the world, there's a consensus on that. It's absolutely right that we identify this stuff, we remove it and we report it to the authorities," he said.

The restrictions will be launched in the UK first, before being expanded to other English-speaking countries and 158 other languages in the next six months.

Google's Peter Barron and Microsoft's Nicola Hodson say they have worked together to block and remove content

Warnings - from both Google and charities - will make it clear child abuse is illegal.

Microsoft, which in a rare display of unity is working closely with Google on this issue, says its Bing search engine will also produce clean results.

Microsoft's general manager of marketing and operations Nicola Hodson said: "Day-to-day we're fierce competitors, and we collaborate on this issue because it transcends that.

"It will be much harder to find that content on both Bing and Google. We are blocking content, removing content and helping people to find the right content or also sources of help should they need that," she said.

Tory MP Claire Perry, Mr Cameron's adviser on the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the new measures were a "great step forward".

Analysis

Google and Microsoft's efforts will make it harder to search for abuse images but will do nothing to limit access to what is on the deep web or held on darknets.

The deep web is simply those parts of the web not catalogued by search engines. These are the parts of websites search crawlers do not visit or cannot find.

Some deep web sites are password protected, or only give access to people visiting from certain addresses or are forums or places that block indexers or use file formats they do not log.

Darknets are stand-alone networks that sit separate to the web but are accessible to those that run the right software to get at them. Many operate on a peer-to-peer basis and can only be accessed by those invited to join them.

"We're not declaring victory but this is a massive step in the right direction," she said.

Lyn Smith, grandmother of April Jones, who was killed by Mark Bridger in October last year, welcomed the plans for new online restrictions.

"I don't know if it's enough but it's a start. I'm glad David Cameron has got involved in this," she said.

'Missed opportunity'

But Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), told BBC Breakfast he did not think the measures would make any difference with regard to protecting children from paedophiles.

"They don't go on to Google to search for images. They go on to the dark corners of the internet on peer-to-peer websites," he said.

He said search engines had already been blocking inappropriate content and the latest move was just an enhancement of what was already happening.

A better solution would be to spend £1.5m on hiring 12 child protection experts and 12 co-ordinators in each of the police regions to hunt down online predators, he added.

NSPCC chief executive officer Peter Wanless said "a concerted and sustained effort from all quarters" was needed to stay one step ahead of sex offenders, who were getting ever more technologically advanced.

Former head of anti-exploitation body Ceop, Jim Gamble: "I don't think this will make any difference"

"This is the key child protection issue of a generation - we cannot fail," he said.

A June report by Ceop highlighted how the "hidden internet" helped distributors of child abuse images evade detection by using encrypted networks and other secure methods.

Google and Microsoft have agreed to work with the UK's National Crime Agency and the Internet Watch Foundation to try to tackle networks which host child abuse images.

The two companies are also using their technological expertise to help in the identification of abuse images.

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 357.

    If anyone still thinks this isn't just an excuse to start full scale Internet censorship you only have to take a trip to techdirt and torrentfreak to see that censorship in the UK is in full swing, with many safe and harmless sites already being blocked by vested interests. It won't stop until the people wake up and say "no more" This isn't just about children's safety. It's about total control.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 356.

    335.Sally the Rothbardian
    39 Minutes ago
    Evidence suggests censorship is counterproductive, and that artificial substitutes may have a role to play.

    +++

    What artficial substitutes for censorship do you recomend?

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 355.

    The majority of paedophiles that use the internet to source such explicit material aren't using google or any mainstream search engine, they're using things like TOR and various proxies to make themselves untracable. I'm completely against child pornography, but i'm also completely against censorship of the internet. This is a complex issue and not one that this brute force approach will solve.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 354.

    335.Sally the Rothbardian

    Sally ill say this very slowly, you not me sits on HYS spouting absurd archaic neo liberal ideology and you not me apply that same principle
    to every subject including this subject child porn. You have clearly stated that child porn should not be censored. I will challenge your absurd archaic views here online because you can't censor me.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 353.

    The natural tendency of State is take away our personal freedoms.
    To achieve this, the State seeks some practice universally reviled, and poses itself as the only remedy. The best example today is child pornography.

    “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
    ~William Pitt, youngest ever British Prime Minister.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 352.

    Derpsworth, I beg to differ, not all perverts are intelligent. Take Mark Bridger for instance, he did google searches using the words 'naked' and then gave young age ranges and the words 'girls', it doesn't get more primitive than that.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 351.

    I know - why dont we really embrace 1984 and let the government make up laws as they go along...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 350.

    moderation or deletion?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 349.

    So if a person was so minded, they could link a term eg: "Conservative Party" to a site with illegal content and it would be automatically blocked...

    Why not, if the content is illegal have it removed?.


    One World, One Police Force, would you like to know more ?...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 348.

    Unfortunately with the right filters and browser add ons its possible to search outside of bing and google. Unless a world wide internet block by ALL countries is enforced, this means nothing. Further more the web is the end of a long process, and it should start with more work done to stop and prosecute the b...., sorry, perpetrators of this awful crime.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 347.

    James at 336. You don't accidently stumble across images of child pornography!!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 346.

    Phil, I wonder if you have any children? Did you stop to consider before beginning your diatribe of David Cameron that the images these 'perverts' are looking at are real live children. That they have been subjected to sometimes horrific abuse that is paraded online. This is a moral issue that the majority of society would defend because it is wrong and not just because they 'wouldn't dare'

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 345.

    @277. themint: Ineffective policing is a waste of money and merely unnecessarily interferes with the freedom of innocent people. This includes collecting data speculatively which is not relevant to any investigation.

    And calling me an "idiot" doesn't your argument, but this is the Internet so I'll let it pass :P.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 344.

    269.omegaman
    I'm not saying paedophilia is acceptable, and did not say that at all.

    You're confusing looking at an image with committing a physical act. The two are separate.

    I am saying that these people, a tiny minority, sadly are attracted to children naturally. Until you understand this, you'll be doomed to repeat the repeated and failed solutions of prohibition.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 343.

    "Government attempt to control the masses"...what a load of old tosh. There is no reason anyone should be searching for the terms that are being blocked and if it stops just one person, in particular children themselves, accessing inappropriate material then good for Google and Microsoft.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 342.

    "4.
    Mega Awesume Pooster
    The internet needs to be censored so that my kids are kept from seeing horrible things"

    yeah ok do you want to censor the real world as well.. its easy.. find a cave on mars and live there far far away from reality

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 341.

    And they have only just thought of this NOW? how about stopping the creation of these site and videos and not fining those who stumble upon them accidently? this is like not stopping the flow of illegal drugs and then throwing users in jail. highly unethical. stop the creation of anything harmful to potential viewers and you don't have a problem fullstop.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 340.

    Can someone please define what Ceop considers 'a low level of seriousness', I'm assuming the videos are of a pornographic nature. Does this mean these kinds of images are graded thereby suggesting you can get away with looking at the 'not so bad type'. If so, who within ceop has the audacity to consider any type of inappropriate image unworthy of prosecution.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 339.

    What we need is a tougher justice system. Child abuse both sexual & non-sexual will not stop unless our justice system stops protecting those who commit the crime. Making it difficult for these images to be found via internet search engine will make no difference because they will find alternative ways to get these images. We should introduce these people to a hangman's neck-tie

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 338.

    @fauxgeordie

    Ok, but the point is one we should be able to explore without being removed for not towing the line of hysterical knee jerk BS, same as the whole 'drug war' crap, otherwise we wouldn't keep sacking experts and hiding studies that didn't give the 'correct' results, it does annoy the heck out of me that we aren't allowed to discuss certain things 'or else' is all, 1984 here we are...

 

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