Google and Microsoft blocking searches for child abuse is only the first step


Google and Microsoft have announced that they are blocking around 100,000 search terms related to child abuse, and will show users looking for such material warnings that it is illegal. This is a good first step and show of faith by the web firms to start tackling the issue, but there is much more to do.

The blacklist of search terms was provided by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), but the blocks will roll out around the world across all languages over the next six months, with Eric Schmidt describing the move as having a “truly global” impact.

The next step is for Google to release its digital fingerprinting video technology, so that once a copy of a video of child abuse is found online, the search engine can find all copies of that video in its index and block them all. This technology will also be shared with the NCA and police around the world to help track down those creating and distributing the content.

All of these measures, however, do not address the problem of such files being shared in the “dark web” where the search engines do not spider because of password protected areas and peer-to-peer networks where child protection experts say the majority of this content is being shared.

There is no technical solution for addressing this problem without starting to infringe the rights of the innocent masses with all traffic being monitored by crime agencies. After the uproar about the privacy implications of the NSA and GCHQ spying on all communication traffic with the Snowden revelations, any such dragnet intelligence gathering for child abuse may also find little public support.

Instead, governments around the world need to devote more resources to child protection agencies, with people prepared to infiltrate these closed networks of abusers. In all likelihood, the setup of such communities will be a pyramid with a small number of those at the top creating the content, and then it being distributed amongst a wider number below. Infiltrating and gaining trust within these networks could bring down a large number of offenders together, and money needs to be spent to achieve this aim.

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