Google Urged To Block Abusive Online Porn

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Despite already doing a lot to delete indecent images from the Internet, Google and ISPs are facing calls to do more to block access to child pornography

Internet giant Google and the ISP community are facing calls to block access to indecent images of children, following the April Jones murder last October.

Earlier this week, Mark Bridger was jailed for life, and it emerged that in the lead up to the murder he had visited websites which showed violent images. Bridger’s laptop also contained images of children being abused and raped.

Porn clampdown

This has prompted calls from some quarters for Google and ISPs like BT and Virgin to block access to violent pornography and child abuse images. It appears many, including the government, have forgotten that bodies already exist that deal with illegal pornography, such as the Internet Watch Foundation, which Google works with.

John Carr, a government adviser and member of the Internet Task Force on Child Protection, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that Google should show moral leadership on the issue.

Internet censorship © Matthias Pahl Shutterstock 2012Google already has a zero tolerance approach to child porn, yet Carr believes the firm should be blocking access to both legal and illegal porn websites. He is calling for those people who want to access online pornography to register with their ISPs.

“Google’s moral leadership is essential here. They are the biggest player in this space in the world. If they did it, I think others would have to follow,” he said.

Carr later told BBC Radio 5 live there was “no question” some men who look at child sex abuse images go on to carry out abuse. “There is enough evidence to suggest that if we can put more barriers towards guys getting to child abuse images, fewer of them will do it and more children will be safe,” he said.

“It seems Bridger lived in a fantasy world which included looking at child abuse images online,” said Phillip Noyes, acting CEO of the child protection charity the NSPCC. “For some time we have been concerned about the growing number of these obscene images which are becoming more easily available and can fuel the fantasies of offenders like Bridger.

“This case points to the ever-growing evidence that there is a worrying link between looking at this vile kind of material and committing other serious sexual assaults. April’s death will hopefully lead to effective measures to stamp out this vile trade.”

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, was quoted as saying that the April Jones case illustrated the “need to act to remove such content from the internet”. He called for a new code of conduct for ISPs to “remove material which breaches acceptable behaviour standards”.

Google responded quickly to the calls.

“Google has a zero-tolerance policy on child sexual abuse content. We are members and joint funders of the Internet Watch Foundation – an independent body that searches the web for child abuse imagery and then sends us links, which we remove from our search index,” Scott Rubin, communications director at Google, told TechweekEurope in an emailed statement. “When we discover child abuse imagery or are made aware of it, we respond quickly to remove and report it to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

Censorship moves?

Privacy campaigners are also resisting what they feel is knee jerk reaction after the April Jones case. The Open Rights Group labelled the calls as “sacrificing freedom on the altar of political fears.”

It disagreed with those blaming Google, and those seeking to link abuse images to an overall ban on all online pornography for all adults.

“These are extraordinarily big leaps, with little thought to the consequences,” said the group. “Restrictions on legal content, like pornography, come with many potential results. They may be the opposite of those intended. The wrong material may be blocked, or otherwise, people may simple remove all of the blocks, and find it easier to access illegal material, whether they wish to or not.”

It said that comments, email, and peer-to-peer technologies are all hard to monitor and censor without disturbing results, and added that centralised mechanisms are extremely hard, if not impossible, to impose.

“Meanwhile, governments look for ways to grow the economy and jobs,” it said. “The Internet and tech are one of the few parts of the economy that are continuing to grow. Judging by the headlines, if our politicians are simply allowed to follow their worst instincts, then both our freedom and economic future will be sacrificed on the altar of their fears.”

ISP reaction

Meanwhile the ISP community said that it is tackling the child abuse problem on the Internet.

“ISPA is proud to be a founding member of the Internet Watch Foundation  which has an excellent record of removing child-abuse images from the internet by working closely with the internet industry in the UK and abroad,” the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) said in an emailed statement to TechWeekEurope.

“The organisation has vastly reduced the amount of child abuse content hosted in the UK to less than 1 percent, down from 18 percent in 1996.

“Child abuse content hosted in the UK is on average removed in under 60 minutes from when it is reported, and often much quicker.”

“Filtering content  such as adult content that is not illegal is a separate issue and industry has made great strides in offering customers tools and services to filter adult content, alongside providing information on education and awareness.”

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