By Kristen Schweizer
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will introduce laws to force search engines’ to cooperate if new efforts to curb child pornography online fail, he said today while lauding efforts by Google Inc. (GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
Cameron credited the two with making “significant progress” in helping prevent such content from proliferating, in a statement ahead of today’s meeting of Internet companies, the National Crime Agency and charities on curbing child porn.
Child abuse “highlights the depths to which humanity can sink,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper today. “While society will never wholly eliminate such depravity, we should do everything in our power to protect children from harm.”
In July, Cameron detailed his effort to stop child pornography and better protect children from pedophiles by enlisting help from companies and the law-enforcement agency. Since then, U.K. Internet providers have been installing home filters so parents can help prevent their children from being targeted and the largest Wi-Fi networks have activated so-called family-friendly filters in public areas where children may access the Internet.
Cameron cited a 20 percent drop in Internet users searching for illegal content thanks to efforts by Cupertino, California-based Google. Cameron also unveiled a U.K.-U.S. taskforce to identify trans-Atlantic criminals and said the Internet Watch Foundation -- an industry group that identifies and removes illegal content -- will expand operations and recruit new analysts.
Individuals will still need to monitor images to help sort “innocent pictures of kids at bathtime and genuine abuse,” Google’s Schmidt said. “Once that is done -- and we know the pictures are illegal -- each image is given a unique digital fingerprint” so computers can track and delete them.
Though the moves by Google and Microsoft are positive steps, they don’t solve the problem, Martyn Thomas, head of the Institution of Engineering and Technology IT Policy Panel, said in a statement today.
“The measures will help to protect young children from accessing such material, but they will do little for the people sharing these images, which is being done through private peer-to-peer networks,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that blocking websites and search terms is “ineffective” and it is easy to get around such measures. Instead, more resources are needed to enforce existing laws, and more responsible parenting and education are required, he said.
New controls from Google and Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft include algorithms that block images, videos and paths to illegal content and a halting of auto-complete features on child abuse search terms, according to the statement. They’ll work with the crime agency and Internet Watch Foundation to take down peer-to-peer networks featuring images of child abuse.
“Today we can make some real progress against the absolute evil of child abuse and what happens on the Internet,” Cameron told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show in a call from his Downing Street office. The next step is to combat abuse on the “darknet,” where images are shared peer-to-peer, Cameron said. “Let’s go after these people and get them behind bars where they belong,” he said.
Google’s new controls are worldwide, according to a statement on the outcome of today’s summit. Microsoft said in a separate statement that its restrictions apply to the U.K. and U.S, and the company is looking to roll out the policy globally.
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