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Internet safety: Google, Microsoft join fight to curb online child porn

Google and Microsoft announced today that they will introduce new software controls aimed at reducing the distribution of child pornography online.

By Sylvia HuiAssociated Press / November 18, 2013

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, announced today that Google will roll out new controls designed to curb child porn searches. Here, Mr. Schmidt speaks during a session with students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Nov. 4.

Vincent Yu/AP

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London

Google and Microsoft have introduced software that makes it harder for users to search for child abuse material online, the companies said in a joint announcement today.

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Writing ahead of a British summit on Internet safety, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt said his company has fine-tuned Google Search to clean up results for over 100,000 search terms. When users type in queries that may be related to child sexual abuse, they will find no results that link to illegal content.

"We will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global," Mr. Schmidt wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.

The restrictions are being launched in Britain and other English-speaking countries first. Similar changes are being brought out on Microsoft's Bing search engine.

The two companies are sharing picture detection technology to identify child abuse photographs whenever they appear on their systems, and Google is also testing technology to identify and remove illegal videos.

Other measures include warnings shown at the top of Google search for more than 13,000 queries to make it clear that child abuse is illegal.

Schmidt acknowledged that no algorithm is perfect and Google cannot prevent pedophiles adding new images to the web.

Campaigners welcomed the move but doubted how much impact the changes would bring. Pedophiles tend to share images away from the public search engines, they say.

"They don't go on to Google to search for images," said Jim Gamble, the former chief of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center. "They go on to the dark corners of the Internet on peer-to-peer websites."

According to a briefing issued by Mr. Cameron's office, changes to be introduced by the search engines include:

  • the introduction of new algorithms that will block child abuse images, videos and pathways that lead to illegal content, covering 100,000 unique searches on Google worldwide
  • stopping auto-complete features from offering people child abuse search terms
  • Google and Microsoft will now work with the National Crime Agency and the Internet Watch Foundation to bring forward a plan to tackle peer to peer networks featuring child abuse images
  • Google will bring forward new technology that will put a unique identification mark on illegal child abuse videos, which will mean all copies are removed from the web once a single copy is identified 

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