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".


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

    Comment number 337.

    The foundations for Chairman Dave's Great Firewall are being laid surreptitiously methinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    And they've only just thought of this NOW? How about targeting those who create these videos and sites and not fining people who accidently stumble upon them? this is like making drugs available not stopping there flow and then throwing users in jail, makes sense hey ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    You have no theory, let alone evidence. Only attacks on me. Explain why the cited evidence is wrong, or be quiet.

    It's good to see some are not only thinking with their hearts. We all share the same goal: to see as few children harmed as possible. Evidence suggests censorship is counterproductive, and that artificial substitutes may have a role to play.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    People you must learn to tell propaganda from reality. This measure will not stop children being abused and that is what any action taken needs to do. The only thing this achieves is the start of full state censorship which won't stop here but will continue until the whole web is useless. Funding the tracking down and jailing of the abusers is the only action which will make a real difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Will an abused child be allowed to use the Internet to look for sources of help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    This is not the best solution, it is not the 95% of Google/Bing users we should worry about it will be the 5% others. Users of the of the Dark Web etc. It should be mandated on the ISPs to block sites identified as illegal ie, take out the servers this would be much more secure and less hit an miss and would not restrict legitimate search strings. Down side is it would require constant vigilance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    It is about time they attempted something like this. Why has it taken so long do implement this?

    I doubt it will work, however. It isn’t as if you put in specific ‘every day terms’ that you would expect into the search engine to find the depraved material these people are looking for is it?
    Isn't the safety of our children, from the vile animals who perpetrate these things, paramount?

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    This may not be an effective solution, but it gives me hope. I am so grateful that this has been done. I believe in freedom of expression and I do not accept the argument that attempting to restrict child abuse on the internet is the thin end of the wedge for personal freedom. The only freedom that is being curtailed is that of criminal predators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    All this is doing is furthering the ignorance that is rife: like when discussing this on the news showing "child porn" typed into Google search AS IF THAT IS HOW PAEDOPHILES OPERATE!! Seriously, illegal images are illegal and Google doesn't host illegal images - this literally changes nothing and feeds into the baseless fear that kiddie porn is prevalent and just a mistyped Google search away

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Laughable security theater that does nothing for the victims and feeds tabloid hysteria. Another step towards the Gulags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    There is too much of sex - odd and eccentric - display in the media that satiates the wacky lot. Close one door and the other one opens up by such slurs of the community. It requires a tech savvy thief read paedophile to catch a thief. With bureaucratic snags the law trods and trudges in eking out punishment. There should be Islamic jurisprudence in the punishment of such wacky filth of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    The web was developed for security/defense
    When it went live within 1 year porn was it's biggest user
    Nothing wrong with porn - if there was why would there be so many sites? And why so popular?

    BUT why does it need a govt to stop child porn/rape/abuse images

    WHY weren't google/microsoft blocking these images because they knew it was wrong?

    By the way most of this takes place on the dark net

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Hmm. Another erosion of Freedom of Speech/Information. Nailed printed media with the Royal Charter. Now restricting the internet with measures which will do *nothing* to stop child abuse but *will* make use of any site not "Nanny Approved" more difficult.

    HYS will have to go as too many here think nasty things about the Gummint..:-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    This will go a long way to protect innocent surfers, including children, from stumbling upon such material.

    It will also make it harder for someone with a casual interest starting to access such materials, eventually leading them to the dark web and possibly abusing children themselves.

    It's a good start, hopefully they will pass on the addresses of the sites they do block to the likes of CEOP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    This is utter rubbish. Child porn isn't the main problem, child abuse is! By the time the porn exists, a child has already been abused - trying to ban the porn is slamming the stable door as the horse disappears over the horizon. Resources should be directed to monitoring vulnerable children, in care homes, hospitals, youth groups, and so on. This is just a stalking horse for internet censorship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    If the Prime Minister thinks this is significant progress then he simply doesn't understand how the internet works. The number of abuser seeking images of sexual abuse through google is infinitesimally small. Furthermore it does NOTHING to identify and protect the victims.

    If you want to keep children safe you have to spend money on poor people and this government won't do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    About time too!! Why has it taken so long to do the right thing that should have been done a very long time ago anyway??

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    This is more about control of the free internet than the headline says, once one thing is controlled other things will follow

  • Comment number 319.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    "I notice poor Sally is getting modded out of existence so I'll try n fight her corner a bit:"

    Don't bother. Sally - a bloke by the way, with the sole merit of politeness - is a fringe libertarian who thinks nothing should stand in the way of anything anyone wants to do and that the 'market' will decide.

    The rest of us call this "defying history & human character" & "boring boring boring"


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