Google launches new tools in fight against child porn

A Google sign is seen at a Best Buy electronics store in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Credit: Reuters

Google has created new tools in the fight against child pornography, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt announced Monday.

The software giant has “cleaned” the results for more than 100,000 search terms used to locate sexual images of children online, applying to 150 languages, and a further 13,000 queries will carry warnings. A “digital fingerprint” will block obscene videos and any duplicates.

Writing in the British newspaper Daily Mail, Schmidt said more than 200 employees helped create the new technology in alliance with other tech giants such as Microsoft, and that it would be made available to other companies.

“We hope that the technologies developed (and shared) by our industry will make a real difference in the fight against this terrible crime,” said Schmidt.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed on Twitter a “major victory” ahead of chairing a summit on child porn. He is expected to announce a new collaboration between international intelligence services, including America’s National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, to penetrate the “darknet,” an encrypted version of the Internet that allows child porn users to operate anonymously.

The Internet Watch Foundation, which flags obscene material, welcomed the developments.

“There is a race between leading companies to create effective tools, and we are all working toward the same goal of protecting children,” a spokesperson told Metro.

John Carr, an adviser to the European Union on online child safety, said the tools would have an important but limited impact.

“This will have little effect on determined criminals involved in commercial trafficking,” he told Metro. “But for men who stumble into this world, it will be a major deterrent.”

Carr added, “We are seeing a determined effort from the authorities and companies and there is room for development. The detection tools can be used by anyone and they will improve. This will address the public’s growing anxiety about circulation of child porn.”

Google had previously argued that search terms could not be classified as obscene without hitting legitimate users and material, and it is not clear those concerns have been addressed. Activists are even more concerned over plans to crack the encrypted web.

“If governments succeed in breaking the darknet, those techniques will be used against democracy activists in dictatorships,” says Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a British digital rights organization. “I’m not convinced this is just about child abuse.”


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