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Google, Microsoft reveal new efforts to block indecent child imagery

updated 05:18 am EST, Mon November 18, 2013

Tools, search query blocks follow after British Prime Minister speech

Google and Microsoft have been working together to block requests for indecent images and video of children from their search engines, Google chairman Eric Schmidt has announced. Blocks on specific requests as well as new tools have been created in response to a request for help from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Schmidt told the Daily Mail that a team of more than 200 people have been working on the problem in the last three months. One of the joint efforts between Google and Microsoft was the creation of an image fingerprinting system, one that can give an image a unique identifier to illegal images which can be spotted when the images and video resurfaces again on web services, with the tools expected to be provided to other Internet companies and organizations related to child safety in the new year.

Google Search has been updated with more filters to block queries for such content, with the results of over 100,000 queries already "cleaned up." Warnings from Google and charities have appeared at the top of results for more than 13,000 queries, advising that child sexual abuse is illegal, as well as providing advice on where to get help.

There are also plans for Google to provide engineers to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), with a view to improving the technical abilities of these organizations. Google is also offering to fund internships for other engineers to attend and help at the organizations.

Though it could be thought that the efforts of Google and Microsoft are charitable in terms of helping protect children, it is worth noting that David Cameron's public request to the companies back in July included a threat against those involved. He suggested "If in October we don't like the answer we're given to this question if the progress is slow or non-existent," then the government would be compelled to proceed with legislation, effectively forcing the companies to do this work anyway. According to the BBC, Cameron said that significant progress had been made, but warned that the legislative options could still be brought into effect if the companies failed to deliver.

Even so, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) Jim Gamble reiterated his stance on the issue, some of which could be ineffective. Paedophiles "don't go on Google to search for images," said Gamble, continuing "They go on to the dark corners of the Internet on peer-to-peer websites." He also claimed that the new search blocks were just an extension of existing filtering already being performed by search engines, and that a better method would have been to spend £1.5 million ($2.4 million) to pay 12 child protection experts and 12 coordinators to find online predators in each police region.

By Electronista Staff


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