(The Telegraph) - Google, the internet giant, is to create a global database of child abuse images - which it will share with its rival companies - in a bid to eradicate child pornography from the web.
The company disclosed to The Telegraph that its engineers are working on new technology which will, for the first time, allow internet search engines and other web firms to swap information about images of children being raped and abused.
The new database, which is expected to be operational within a year, will allow child porn images which have already been “flagged” by child protection organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to be wiped from the web in one fell swoop.
Google is also setting up a £1.27 million ($2 million) fund available to independent software developers to produce new tools to combat child pornography, it announced.
The company’s new projects were heralded by independent child protection experts as important, game-changing developments in the war against child pornography.
It comes after web search companies, including Google, have come under intense political pressure to crack down on child porn.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said last week he was “sickened” by material available online and told companies to stop making excuses.
Pressure on the web giants further intensified after it emerged Mark Bridger, who murdered five year-old April Jones, and Stuart Hazell, who murdered Tia Sharp, 12, were both found to have accessed indecent images of children on the web.
The new system will work by sharing data on images which have been identified as illegal and then flagged, or “hashed”, using software originally created in 2008.
The lack of an industry standard means data on images earmarked in this way is difficult to share, and therefore hard to eradicate completely.
Scott Rubin, Google’s spokesman, said: “We are creating an industry-wide global database of ‘hashed’ images to help all technology companies find these images, wherever they might be.
“They will then be blocked and reported.”
John Carr, a government adviser on child internet safety, said: “This is an important moment. It should focus the minds of other industry leaders in relation to how they are going to join the fight.
“Google have stepped up. No one can argue about that. In all my time working in this space no company has ever devoted anything like this level of resources to working with civil society organisations to attack online child abuse images.”
Susie Hargreaves, chief executive officer of the IWF, which is part-funded by Google, said: “This announcement is inspiring for those who are at the forefront of tackling child sexual abuse content.
“We know that the best way to tackle what is some of the most horrific content online is by working with others from all over the world to combat this on a global platform.
“These funds, made available internationally, will no doubt allow international experts to target images and videos of children being sexually abused with the best technology based on the most technically progressive ideas.”
David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said: “Since 2008, we have used ‘hashing’ technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere.
“Each offending image in effect gets a unique fingerprint that our computers can recognize without humans having to view them again.
“Recently, we have started working to incorporate these fingerprints into a cross-industry database. This will enable companies, law enforcement, and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing child abuse images.”