Google and Microsoft's new child abuse measures criticised

Google and Microsoft today introduced measures to tackle online child abuse -- but critics say the restrictions "will mean very little."

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Google and Microsoft today announced a rare collaboration, introducing new measures to tackle online child abuse. But critics have dismissed the restrictions -- and Prime Minister David Cameron's involvement -- as "hype."

Google boss Eric Schmidt took to the Daily Mail today to announce new measures that will censor search results that could return illegal imagery. "While no algorithm is perfect -- and Google cannot prevent paedophiles adding new images to the Web -- these changes have cleaned up the results for over 100,000 queries that might be related to the sexual abuse of kids," writes Schmidt. "As important, we will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global."

But Schmidt also cautioned, "There's no quick technical fix when it comes to detecting child sexual abuse imagery."

The National Crime Agency will also be able to access Microsoft's PhotoDNA and Google's VideoID systems for 'fingerprinting' and tracking individual pictures and videos as they're created and shared across the Web.

The restrictions are announced ahead of an Internet Safety Summit held today at Downing Street. The moves follow Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for Internet companies to clean up search results, under threat of legislation if something isn't done.

'Hype will mean very little'

While it's great to see political momentum and industry co-operation behind the issue, the effectiveness of Google and Microsoft's measure are open to question. It might play well in the pages of the Daily Mail to target big-name firms like these, but both search engines already report and remove illegal activity; and more importantly, critics point out that most illegal images are concealed on the deep Web, peer-to-peer and hidden networks that simply aren't indexed by mainstream search engines such as Google or Bing.

Speaking to ITV, Jim Gamble, former head of police body the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), suggests that despite laudable intentions David Cameron is "poorly advised and ill-informed," and that although the new measures could "perhaps delay a novice paedophile, much of the hype in real terms will mean very little."

Gamble believes a better solution would be to recruit child protection officers who could then train and work with volunteers across the nation to tackle online predators.

If you want to talk to someone because you or someone you know may be affected by child abuse, you can call or go online to talk or report your concerns to Childline or CEOP.

Do you think Google and Microsoft could do more to tackle online child abuse, or is this political grandstanding to a sensationalist media and a general public that doesn't fully understand the issues? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.