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 877.

    This is of the very few times that David Cameron and I can agree on something! I'm glad that Google and Microsoft is finally doing something about this horrific problem. The people engaged in this heinous activity need to be indicted and bought to justice!

  • Comment number 876.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 875.

    But you COULD find a US gun supplier or a UK seller of deactivated weapons..... (and I won't type what to do to get it here. Its not 100% impossible, just tricky) How?
    Errr No you can't. My point is you cannot use legal means to commit a crime. both of what you mention are illegal anyway already, so in fact you confirm my point, you can't stop it. It just goes another route

  • rate this

    Comment number 874.

    @851. bob: You know what the LAST THING I'd want if I was feeling suicidal? People telling me that discussion of suicide must be monitored, censored, driven underground, &c.

    If you want to stop people from thinking about behaving in a particular way (this is BEFORE they've done anything) - whether abusively, self-abusively, or any other mental ill health - you have to engage them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    If google are going to start acting morally maybe they could start paying tax too......

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.

    I have now seen and heard our PM on every news item talking about what a marvelous breakthrough this is. What a load of useless rubbish.

    But why are no news reporters asking any decent questions at all instead of swallowing this PR BS. This simply won't make any difference at all to this vile problem.

    Our PM needs to be questioned instead of being allowed what is practically a press release.

  • rate this

    Comment number 871.

    The internet did not create paedophilia it’s part of the human condition for some. It won’t stop it and the government knows it, this is just another way in for state censorship and control of the web.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    842 - Sally says.

    "...the audience didn't abuse the child, the abuser did".

    True, but why is it, or what is it within you that forbids any understanding that the audience is participating & in receipt of personal gratification, albeit remotely, in & via the actions of the child abuser?
    Surely, you do not continue to condone the abuse by viewing it? If so, you are different species to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    Interesting all the -ve feedback for posts supportive of these changes.

    Tells you a lot about the unpleasant nature of the average reader of the BBC news website.

    Lets see how many -ve's you can give me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    This is one piece of censorship that I wholeheartedly support. IF it proves effective, perhaps other common sense censorships might be contemplated, but government(s) need to nail down the tech giants involved first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    What is our governmennt doing giving poor and incomplete and often misleading information to people about the effects this 'blocking' will have?
    Surely it is irresponsible to hype this silly and useless idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    @Pharmagiles (837)
    "Do they really go to Google or Bing to find this stuff, when NSA / GCHQ have a back door into these companies?"

    You're assuming all paedophiles are technical whizz-kids who know how to operate covertly online. No doubt *some* of them are. However, a great many most likely are not.

    For example, Mark Bridger really did use Bing and Google, however surprising you may find it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    no comment, picture or movie should be 'illegal' + all information about government activities should be available in the public domaine

    conversely many actions and behaviours should be subject to serious penalties, e.g. production of child pornography, murder by drones, even cyclist killing under the influence of mobile phones…

    open information means bad actions are easier to find & punish

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    "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"

    er no. With 95% of child sex abuse taking place within the home by family more children will be saved by spending the money investigatating parents rather than trying to install a false sense of security by chasing the 5% .

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    831.Sally the Rothbardian

    Oh dearie me Sally .. You present an obscure neo liberal article dated 2001, headlined in caps called "ARTICLE: THE PERVERSE LAW OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY" and present it as independant scientific evidence. Dearie dearie me.

    You also blatantly lied about what the criminologist concluded.

    Dearie dearie me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    Shame they can not leave the door open and report all those who enter. Rather identified and prosecuted than frsutrated and underground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    858. Fendermanpaul
    The criminals who search for child abuse images do not use Google I am sure. the same as if you wanted an illegal gun to commit a crime, you wouldn't go into a shop and buy one (You couldn't anyway)!
    But you COULD find a US gun supplier or a UK seller of deactivated weapons..... (and I won't type what to do to get it here. Its not 100% impossible, just tricky)

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    This is ridiculous, do not be fooled into thinking sick people will be stopped from finding their 'kicks' online - not for one minute!

    =>It's sweeping dust under the carpet. Just going to make it more difficult to catch them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    Sounds good, but will acheive almost nothing. nearly all pedophiles go after a family member. Cameron knows this. It's sounding tough. Why doesn't the secret services recording everything go after the people who make these films? It was the newspapers who had 'NO IDEA' about Saville after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    The criminals who search for child abuse images do not use Google I am sure. the same as if you wanted an illegal gun to commit a crime, you wouldn't go into a shop and buy one (You couldn't anyway)! This is just a publicity stunt and a dangerous step towards censorship, what are the next terms they will Censor? who decides this?


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