Google on Saturday said that it's building a "cross industry database" of encrypted "fingerprints" of child sexual abuse images to "enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals." The database will be shared with other companies and will include references to images identified by law enforcement and non-profits such as the Internet Watch Foundation and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Based on my more than 15 years as a NCMEC board member*, I am quite sure that the actual images will not be viewable to individuals other than those who work for law enforcement, NCMEC and other agencies authorized and required to view such images as part of an investigation.
The search giant said that it's committing $5 million towards the fight against child porn which includes creating a $2 million Child Protection Technology Fund to encourage the development of additional tools to fight child porn along with contributions to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States and the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK. NCMEC will receive $1 million for use in the United States.
In a blog post, Jacquelline Fuller, Director, Google Giving said that her company is "in the business of making information widely available, but there's certain "information" that should never be created or found." She 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."
Google is one of several tech companies lending a hand in the fight against child pornography. Microsoft has developed "photo DNA," that can help match newly uncovered images to other images even if they have been slightly modified (prior to photo-DNA even a single pixel change could prevent a match). The technology is being used on Facebook to identify any child porn that might be posted on the service which is not only removed but turned over to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children which brings in law enforcement when content is found to be illegal.
UK Gov't adviser John Carr congratulated Google
In an interview, John Carr, an Internet safety advisor to the UK government said, "Finally the question of child pornography on the Internet is gaining some real traction and Google, with its huge investment, is to be congratulated for helping to bring that about." He said that he hopes this will "lead to fewer images being available and fewer offenders." Last month Carr publicly called on Google to take action after two child murderers were convicted in the UK who both reportedly used Google to look for child pornography and information about harming children.
"Once again, Google continues to demonstrate its commitment to combat the distribution of online child pornography," said John Ryan, CEO, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "For those child victims featured in these horrific images, Google's cutting-edge technology will assist in minimizing their continued re-victimization. We value our long-standing partnership with Google in our mutual efforts to protect children."
Images of children being abused
Child pornography, also known as "child abuse images," is a general term that refers to images or videos of children being sexually abused or engaged in lewd sexual behavior. It is against the law in the United Stats and many other countries. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's (NCMEC's) Cybertipline received 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child abuse in 2011 which is four times more than what their Exploited Children's Division (ECD) saw in 2007. These are images of real children being victimized not only when the images are captured but every time they are distributed and viewed. What's more, the images, according to NCMEC are sometimes used "to coerce, entice or manipulate other children into performing sexually abusive and exploitive acts."
* Disclosure: I serve (without compensation) on the board of directors of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and also serve as co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Google, Facebook and other Internet companies.