Google builds system to identify child abuse images

17 Jun 2013
Red data

Google responds to political pressure with development of new child abuse image remover

Google is developing a new system that it claims will make it easier to detect and remove online images of child abuse.

The search company has come under intense pressure from politicians - including the prime minister - to make it more difficult to access child pornography, even though experts concede that it's already virtually impossible to find child abuse images using a Google search.

Now, the company says it has created a new system that gives each image a unique identifier, making it easier for international bodies to remove them without the need for human verification.

"Since 2008, we’ve used 'hashing' technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere," said Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving, the branch of the company devoted to charity work.

"Each offending image in effect gets a unique ID that our computers can recognise without humans having to view them again. Recently, we’ve started working to incorporate encrypted 'fingerprints' of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database. This will enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals."

Separately, the company announced it was creating a $2 million Child Protection Technology Fund to "encourage the development of ever more effective tools".

Last week, Google announced it was donating £1 million to the Internet Watch Foundation, which helps to identify and remove child abuse images. It's not clear whether the IWF donation is coming from the Child Protection Technology Fund.

Political pressure

Google's initiatives follow heavy criticism from David Cameron, who has called upon internet companies including Google to "use their extraordinary technical abilities to do more to root out these disgusting images". A spokesman for the prime minister later singled out Google for criticism for failing to deal with child abuse, claiming that software such as Google Earth showed "firms can do amazing things on the internet when they want to".

Yet Google and other internet companies and providers have long worked with organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation to successfully remove child abuse images. The Internet Watch Foundation's own "About Us" page boasts that as a result of its "notice and takedown" scheme, "the content we deal with has been virtually eradicated from UK networks".

Speaking last week at a Westminster eForum on internet safety, the CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency (CEOP) admitted it was highly unlikely that people would discover child abuse images through casual surfing. ""It's not easy to find it online," he said. "You make a choice to go find it. You don't stumble across it, and I think that's often overlooked."

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