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Why the delay in restricting child porn search terms?

Following a recent campaign by the British government, Google and Microsoft have agreed to roll out a set of measures designed to make it harder for offenders to find child abuse images online.

This development comes some months after David Cameron’s interview with the BBC where he spoke of the “depraved and disgusting” terms that it is possible to search the web and which, some would say, the major search engines have done little about until now.

The new measures include the introduction of new algorithms aimed at blocking approximately 100,000 search terms. Warnings will also be displayed to searchers stating that child abuse imagery is illegal.

With Google and Microsoft accounting for 95% of online search traffic this marks a significant step forward in the battle against online child pornorgraphy.

The Internet Watch Foundation, a body that seeks out abusive images and works to block them from public view, will take a leading role implementing the changes.

Why did it take so long?

Some may regard Google and Microsoft’s slowness to respond to this issue as reprehensible, or unsurprising, or both. The fact that they are global companies may play a part in the slowness – it is notable that certain UK-centric companies such as BT were far quicker to respond to the government’s campaign when it was launched earlier in the year.

Another factor could be that it has always been Google’s default position not to censor information. One of its mission statements is to provide data on everything that exists on the internet. However the signs are that this may be changing, at least when it comes to child pornography. Peter Barron, Google’s Head of Communication, stated recently that “child sexual imagery is a case apart, it’s illegal everywhere in the world, it’s absolutely right that we identify this stuff, we remove it and we report it to the authorities”.

This is welcome news indeed, however some think the new measures do not go far enough in addressing the problem, and that pedophiles will simply shift their activity further onto peer-to-peer websites – the so-called ‘dark corners’ of the internet.

Nevertheless it is rare to see Google and Microsoft combining their collective influence to address issues on the web so hopefully this will prove to be a significant and lasting step in eradicating abusive pornographic images from the internet.

The algorithms will be launched initially in the UK and other English speaking countries before they are rolled out to another 158 languages within the next six months.

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