Microsoft and Google are to introduce software that will prevent up to 100,000 search terms linked to child abuse images from returning any result, following increased pressure from the government and the public over the issue.
The software will be introduced in the UK first, following requests from the British Prime Minister David Cameron. This will be followed by other English-speaking countries and 158 other languages by the middle of next year, wrote Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt in the Daily Mail.
“We’ve listened, and in the last three months put more than 200 people to work developing new, state-of-the-art technology to tackle the problem,” wrote Schmidt. “We’ve fine-tuned Google search to prevent links to child sexual abuse material from appearing in our results.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who demanded the search engines take action on the issue at a meeting in June, said the move was “significant progress”, particularly considering that the companies had previously said such filtering was not possible.
“The battle isn’t over, but search engines are showing responsibility by accepting my challenge to do more to stop child abuse imagery online,” Cameron said in a Monday post on Twitter. He said the companies’ actions must produce results, or new legislation could be introduced.
Google, and Microsoft’s Bing, account for about 85 percent of worldwide search traffic (67 percent for Google and 18 percent for Bing).
The prime minister is to host a conference on the child abuse issue later on Monday which is to be attended by Google and Microsoft as well as representatives of BSkyB, TalkTalk, BT, Virgin Media, the National Crime Agency, the NSPCC and the Internet Watch Foundation.
At the meeting Cameron is expected to unveil details of a joint initiative between the Natioinal Crime Agency and US law enforcement organisations, including the FBI, to target child abuse imagery on the public Internet as well as on hidden networks (the “Dark Web”).
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Child abuse online is not restricted by international borders and so neither must our response be.”
Tech City chief executive Joanna Shields, a Google and Facebook veteran, is to lead an industry group of experts aimed at targeting illegal activity online. She said in a statement that governments and industry must “work together to eradicate child abuse content from the Internet”.
Public pressure on the issue mounted following two high-profile cases of child murders in which the killers had searched for child abuse images online before committing their crimes.
In September the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre warned that in the past two years, 184 children from the UK became victims of sexual blackmail online, with several self-harming or taking their own lives as a result.
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