Google shoots own foot in war on child abuse images

If you believe the Daily Mail and the BBC, Google and Microsoft have buckled under pressure from the Government to block images of child abuse on the Internet. What they’ve actually done is block around 100,000 search terms that are used by peodphiles looking for material, whether such search terms could be used to locate other content or not. Great.

Actually, this is rubbish. Google (about which I know more) has not even been indexing such sites, so search terms won’t have found any that it knew about anyway. I’m sure the other search engines have similar programmes in place. This is a public relations exercise, with a piece by Eric Schmidt in the Mail today. It’s a desperate PR stunt that will back-fire on Google.

Eric Schmidt of Google, seeming desperate (from Wikipedia)
Eric Schmidt of Google, seeming desperate

The fact is that household names like Google don’t have a case to answer here. They’re not ISPs, they’re not providing hosting space for illegal material and they’re not actually responsible for it in any way. The only thing they can do is spend their money researching such sites, dropping them from there indices and alerting the relevant authorities to their research. This they already do. So when the likes of Mr Cameron criticize them, as an easy target, the correct response is “Don’t be silly, it’s not us, and it’s the job of your Police to catch the criminals whether they’re using the Internet or not”. What Google has done with this move is give legitimacy to the original false accusation.

As anyone concerned with cybercrime will tell you, the major criminal activity takes place in areas outside the World Wide Web – areas not indexed by Google or any legitimate company. It travels around the Internet, encrypted and anonymous; and the peodophiles seem to be able to find it anyway. All this move will achieve is pushing the final remnants underground, where they’ll be much harder to track.

Looking at the comments that have appeared on the Daily Mail site since it was published is depressing. They’re mostly from people who have been taken in by this line (originally spun by the Daily Mail, after all), and they clearly don’t understand the technical issues behind any of this. I can’t say I blame them, however, as the majority of the population has little or no understanding of what the Internet is or how it works. They simply see a web browser, normally with Google as a home-page, and conflate the Internet with Google. The Prime Ministers advisors are either just as simple-minded, or are cynically exploiting the situation.


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