Google, Microsoft ramp up fight against online child pornography

Web giants agree to modify search algorithms to exclude search terms associated with photos and videos containing sexual abuse of children.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read

In response to the longtime, alarming proliferation of photos and videos containing child pornography on the Internet, Web search giants Google and Microsoft plan to introduce measures to block the content from their search results.

The modifications will prevent more than 100,000 search terms from generating results that link to images and videos associated with child sex abuse and instead trigger a warning that the associated content is illegal. The restrictions, which apply to English-speaking countries, will be expanded to more than 150 languages in the next six months, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote in an article for the Daily Mail on Sunday.

"We've listened, and in the last three months put more than 200 people to work developing new, state-of-the-art technology to tackle the problem," Schmidt wrote. "We've fine-tuned Google search to prevent links to child sexual abuse material from appearing in our results."

Once it's determined that content represents genuine abuse and not innocent bath time photos, the content is assigned a unique digital fingerprint that speeds the detection and deletion process when the images appear in Google's system, he wrote. "Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for developing and sharing its picture detection technology," Schmidt wrote.

Engineers at YouTube have also created new technology to identify child porn videos on the video-sharing site, and the company plans to make the technology available to other Internet companies and child protection agencies, Schmidt wrote.

The effort is the result of a call to arms this summer by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who praised the move as a "really significant step forward."

"Google and Microsoft have come a long way," Cameron told the Daily Mail. "A recent deterrence campaign from Google led to a 20 percent drop off in people trying to find illegal content, so we know this sort of action will make a difference."

The companies have long been focused on eradicating child pornography from the Internet. Google announced plans in June to build a database of child porn images that can be shared with other tech companies, law enforcement, and nonprofits around the world, allowing for greater collaboration toward content removal. In addition to joining the Technology Coalition, which looks at how technology can be used to end child exploitation, the search giant has also donated millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations that work for the cause.

Microsoft has also actively battled child pornography on the Web. The software giant helped develop the image-matching technology for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's PhotoDNA program. The technology is also used by other Internet companies, including Facebook.