Google invests US$7m in bid to eradicate child abuse imagery online

17 Jun 2013

Internet giant Google is to step up its efforts to eradicate child abuse imagery online and is investing US$5m as well as supporting organisations in the frontline fighting this horrific crime. It is also establishing a US$2m Child Protection Technology fund to develop more effective tools to locate children and prosecute perpetrators.

The director of Google Giving Jacquelline Fuller said that while the internet has been a force for good there are dark corners of the internet where criminal behaviour exists.

One of the most heinous crimes is the increasing number of child exploitation images on the internet and Google says it wants to eradicate this forever.

It pointed out that in 2011 the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline received 17.3m images and videos of suspected child abuse – four times what was received in 2007.

Fuller warned that the number of images of child abuse online is on the rise.

“Behind these images are real, vulnerable kids who are sexually victimised and victimised further through the distribution of their images,” Fuller said.

“It is critical that we take action as a community – as concerned parents, guardians, teachers and companies – to help combat this problem.”

A global problem that requires a global solution

It is a sad and disappointing fact of life in the 21st century that businesses and telecoms companies would spend billions of dollars in court battles over IP and illegal downloads but far less is being done to combat a real and growing problem, that of child exploitation online.

Fuller said that more than half of the images and videos reported to the NCMEC are from outside the US.

The NCMEC’s CyberTipline is accessible to 60 countries to help law enforcement agencies execute their investigations.

In 2006, Google joined the Technology Coalition of tech companies endeavouring to develop software and hardware to fight abuse images on the web and locate missing children.

“There is much more that can be done, and Google is taking our commitment another step further through a US$5m effort to eradicate child abuse imagery online. Part of this commitment will go to global child protection partners, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Internet Watch Foundation. We’re providing additional support to similar heroic organisations in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Latin America,” Fuller said.

Google has used “hashing” technology to tag known child sexual abuse images to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere.

Every image is given a unique ID that allows Google’s computers to recognise them without humans having to view the same image again.

Encrypted fingerprints

Recently, Google has started working to incorporate encrypted ‘fingerprints’ of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database.

This will enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals. Google has also announced a US$2m Child Protection Technology Fund to encourage the development of more effective tools.

“We’re in the business of making information widely available, but there’s certain ‘information’ that should never be created or found,” Fuller said.

“We can do a lot to ensure it’s not available online – and that when people try to share this disgusting content they are caught and prosecuted.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years