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

Child protection

By Shona Ghosh

Posted on 18 Nov 2013 at 09:12

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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User comments

The police know it won't work, Google knows it won't work, perverts know it won't work, everyone knows it won't work except the idiots in Westminster. They have cut funding to the very organisations that ARE making a difference to online child abuse. Google and Microsoft are simply responding to the government's idiotic requests for action so that they don't look bad.

By Pantagoon on 18 Nov 2013

Today's Tory Story

Your report is correct. This will do nothing to prevent child abuse.
Its just today's Tory Story, and tomorrow we'll be back to another NHS knocking story from Lynton Crosby.

By c_webb31 on 18 Nov 2013

Are the politicians that have been haranguing Google & MS the same ones that have so underfunded a police department that it's got a 9 month backlog?

Speechless.

By Mark_Thompson on 18 Nov 2013

You should see the Daily Mail headline, they're basically claiming the credit for this.

Personally, I immediately knew it was flawed but worse I wonder if this could cause other problems in the long term for innocent people and that it would have been better for the government to give increased support to e.g. the IWF.

By tech3475 on 18 Nov 2013

What's the point?

When a child abuser is caught, red-handed, the police take two years to act (with the offender at large, unmonitored) and let the offender off with 3 months (instead of 10 years) if they plead guilty.
They're even saying that internet access in prison is now a "right" and a good idea?!
All ISP blocking does is raise the price of the web for everyone else.
Far from blocking child-porn searches, I'd encourage it and pass the details automatically on to CEOP. Nobody goes looking for that material unless they are contemplating offending. Catch them in the early stages.

All this politically-driven spin will do, is drive these people further underground encouraging them to use harder to track technology. Closed p2p networks, encrypted VPN's, steganography (images encrypted inside other images), etc.

Another problem is the forcing of ISP blocking of torrent search engines. This is fuelling the masses to look for and develop the means to hide data a circumvent blocks. Making these tools readily available to sex offenders, when before they were known only to small groups of hackers.

The only laws we need to pass are ones that say nobody can mess with the internet unless they are qualified to understand how it works. That rules out 100% of MP's, judges and lords.

By cheysuli on 18 Nov 2013

@cheysuli

You expect the government to want to learn something?

By tech3475 on 18 Nov 2013

Political grandstanding

The Tory MP (whose name, ironically I forget!) who is the self-appointed "kiddieporn" tzar was on "Today" this morning claiming that it was 'er wot done it. Was it her, or the Mail?
We have a right to know :-)

Of course as is obvious to anyone who:
a) Knows anything about the internet
b) gives a monkey's
these measure will have a vanishingly small effect on Child ABUSE (NOT "pornography" Daily Mail editor).

This is part of yet another round of orchestrated "announcements" from the Tories and their mates in the press. As always its lots of sound and fury signifying (next to) nothing.

I'm all for every possible measure being taken to prevent child abuse, and for the dissemination of images of it.
But as everyone else has said these "changes" change nothing significant, except further adding to my contempt for today's politicians.

By wittgenfrog on 18 Nov 2013

Typo correction

That sentence SHOULD read:
" I'm all for every possible measure being taken to prevent child abuse, and for the prevention of the dissemination of images of it. "

Just to be clear

By wittgenfrog on 18 Nov 2013

Doesn't stop...

the real problem, as the 63 year old in Hamburg at the weekend demonstrated.

High tech? Internet search? No. Borrow the neighbours dog and trick a 5 year old into coming back to his apartment for some BDSM "fun"... :-(

At least the police caught him within hours, but not soon enough to save the girl from being abused.

By big_D on 18 Nov 2013

Tory Tosh

If someone is intent on abusing children they don't require the internet to do it.

What about other illegal things the internet has allowed, for example piracy? I don't see the politicians, Microsoft or Google trying to stop that, although they would probably have a better chance!

The bonus of this would be additional income through fines and sales revenue to provide the government with more funding to employ police officers and social workers to persue child abusers.

Moto is if you want to beat child abuse, stop piracy!

By alanrsmith on 21 Nov 2013

@alanrsmith

I'm going to have to assume that was intended as ironic or just trolling, otherwise I think you were looking for the Daily Mail comments section.

It does raise a good point, which is whilst everyone rushes to blame the government they are only trying to placate the ill informed masses. Those who always seem to feel the need to wade in on debates when they understand very little of the complexities involved. Admittedly it is a terrible subject to play politics with but that's what politicians do, it really shouldn't come as a surprise.

When Google were pushed to make these moves earlier in the year I'm pretty sure the point was raised that it would achieve very little or nothing. Now they have finally given up and gone ahead with them, all the headlines scream just that. "It will achieve very little, we must do more", yeah we know. There were comments in July from people who said why can't these images just be taken off the internet. This shows a profound lack of understanding as to how the internet works and this type of plee just muddies an already complicated issue.

Too many people want simple to understand grand gestures regardless of their efficacy. The truth, that it's complicated and takes time and money, just isn't good enough to win votes.

By leighwill on 22 Nov 2013

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