Google, Microsoft Unveil Technology to Block Child Porn

Nov 18, 2013 10:30 AM PST

LONDON — Sparked by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s demands that the Internet giants need to rid the web of child porn, Google and Microsoft announced today new technologies to block online child abuse images and queries.

The plans were unveiled at a special Downing Street Summit on Internet porn.

In a unique spirit of cooperation, the two usual rivals said that they have developed new software instructions (algorithms) that will prevent the search for child abuse images or results that could lead to this type of content.

More than 200 Google emplyees were put to work in the last three months to develop the new technology.

Google communications director Peter Barron told the BBC that the changes have cleaned up more than 100,000 child porn queries, that would  make it "much, much more difficult to find this content online."

"We're agreed that child sexual imagery is a case apart, it's illegal everywhere in the world, there's a consensus on that. It's absolutely right that we identify this stuff, we remove it and we report it to the authorities," Barron said.

But Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that despite the improvements, “there’s no quick technical fix when it comes to detecting child sexual abuse imagery” — as an algorithm won’t be able to differentiate between innocent pictures of kids at bath time, for example and genuine abuse.  He explained that human intervention is also necessary.

“So we always need to have a person review the images. Once that is done — and we know the pictures are illegal – each image is given a unique digital fingerprint.This enables our computers to identify those pictures whenever they appear on our systems. And Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for developing and sharing its picture detection technology,” Schmidt said.

Microsoft — that powers Bing and Yahoo — said its Bing search engine will also produce clean results. "Day-to-day we're fierce competitors, and we collaborate on this issue because it transcends that.

"It will be much harder to find that content on both Bing and Google. We are blocking content, removing content and helping people to find the right content or also sources of help should they need that," Microsoft's general manager of marketing and operations Nicola Hodson, said.

Parliament Member Claire Perry, Cameron's bulldog adviser on clamping down on Internet porn told BBC Radio that the new measures were a "great step forward.”

"We're not declaring victory but this is a massive step in the right direction," she said.

Video is also being scrutinized by new software being tested by Google YouTube engineers. The technology reportedly allows illegal videos to be “tagged” so that all duplicate copies can be removed. The roll out is hoped to be available next year.

Google said it will also start displaying warnings to users about sexual abuse from both itself and charity organizations at the top of its search results for more than 13,000 queries. The warnings will also tell users where to get help.

Both companies are working with the UK's National Crime Agency and the Internet Watch Foundation in an effort to block networks that host child abuse images.

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