Google's block of child-abuse search terms is "hype"

Child protection

Critics slam Google and Microsoft's announcements on tackling child-abuse images online

Google and Microsoft have tweaked their search algorithms to make child-abuse images harder to find online - but critics slammed the changes as "hype".

Both firms already block images of child abuse but, along with other major tech firms and ISPs, face mounting government pressure to do more.

Ahead of a meeting with the prime minister today, Google has said it will "clean up" the results for more than 100,000 searches.

It will display warnings against certain search terms, advising users that images of child abuse are illegal. And it's also testing a system to catalogue child-abuse images in a database, which it plans to share with other companies next year.

Some of these new tactics will help divert inadvertent access and perhaps delay a novice paedophile, but much of the hype in real terms will mean very little

Finally, the company said it would loan staff to organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK.

"We welcome the lead taken by the British government, and hope that the technologies developed (and shared) by our industry will make a real difference in the fight against this terrible crime," said chairman Eric Schmidt, writing in the Daily Mail.

It's expected that Microsoft will confirm similar measures following today's meeting.

Hype

But experts have suggested the new measures are empty gestures.

Speaking anonymously to PC Pro, a police officer specialising in investigating child abuse said it's already difficult to find illegal content through search.

"I simply do not see people using Google, etc to search for child abuse," the source said. "It's too risky for them."

"We need more staff," the source added. "We have a nine-month backlog - that's not fair to victims."

The former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, added that the new measures would do little to help police.

"Some of these new tactics will help divert inadvertent access and perhaps delay a novice paedophile, but much of the hype in real terms will mean very little," he said.

Gamble added that better police funding would be a more effective way to track down criminals.

"Less than £1.5 million a year would pay for 12 regional child protection experts, supported by twelve training coordinators," he wrote.

The current deputy head of CEOP, Andy Baker, has previously pointed out that it's difficult to casually happen across child-abuse images online, with many criminals using peer-to-peer networks to exchange material.

"It's not easy to find it online - you do have a choice," he said earlier this year. "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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