Google Introduces Better Child Abuse Prevention Tools

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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More cooperation between child protection agencies should lead to a ‘cleaner’ Internet

Following pressure from government, Google is improving the tools it uses to fight distribution of child pornography online.

Since 2008, the search engine has been tagging each of the offending images it indexed with a unique code, which made it easier to track such material across the Web and remove it.

Now, Google will begin collecting these codes into a cross-industry database, to help companies, police and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing illegal content and punish those responsible.

“It is critical that we take action as a community – as concerned parents, guardians, teachers and companies – to help combat this problem,” wrote Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving.

Child abuse, evil Internet © JoeBakal, Shutterstock 2013

Cleaning the Web

Earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron had called upon Internet companies, including Google, to take “more action” against online child abuse imagery. He said the industry needs to take steps beyond existing efforts, such as those of the Internet Watch Foundation, an organisation which seeks out and reports illegal content on the Internet.

Google has been fighting child pornography since 2006, when it teamed up with other tech companies in order to develop tools to better detect and remove illegal content. This partnership resulted in an image “hashing” technology, introduced in 2008, which not only identifies the offending image, but also its duplicates.

An important feature of this system is it avoids the need for human verification, which means no person will have the unenviable job of looking at some of the worst things on the Internet.

According to Google, in 2011, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), an organisation headquartered in the US and accessible in 60 countries, received reports of 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child abuse. There are indications that this number has grown considerably since 2007.

The new image tagging and cataloguing technology is expected to encourage international cooperation, making it easy to track child abuse across borders.

Google has also pledged $5 million (£3.2m) to finance child protection charities. The company will spend $2 million to set up the Child Protection Technology Fund, and an undisclosed amount of money will go on sponsoring NCMEC. Following Cameron’s announcement, Google donated £1m to the Internet Watch Foundation – almost enough money to run the charity for a year.

“We’re in the business of making information widely available, but there’s certain ‘information’ that should never be created or found. We can do a lot to ensure it’s not available online – and that when people try to share this disgusting content they are caught and prosecuted,” wrote Fuller.

Meanwhile, in the UK, ISPs will have to introduce default pornography filters by 2014, with customers able to opt out if they so desire.

Mobile network operators have been offering “on by default” pornography filters for several years, but these measures have been criticised by freedom of speech campaigners since they frequently block legitimate websites.

Despite this, according to TalkTalk, home broadband customers actually welcome default porn filters. Since March 2012, the company has been offering customers a choice whether to use a ‘HomeSafe’ filter or not when they activate their broadband. The company said roughly a third of its customers have implemented the feature.

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