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08/01/2013

Microsoft Bing to launch child porn warning – but only in UK

Bing Bar
Image of Bing search bar courtesy of Microsoft

 

Anyone looking for child pornography images using Microsoft’s Bing search tool will get a “pop-up” warning what they are doing is illegal – but only in the UK.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, the tech giant announced that a search for material “that shows the sexual abuse of children will trigger the Bing Notification Platform message warning that tells them the content they are looking for is against the law.”

The notification will also provide a link to a counselling service.

But even though the Bing search bar is virtually the same worldwide and child abuse images are as illegal in Canada and the US and they are in the UK, it does not appear this new measure will be crossing the Atlantic anytime soon.

A spokesperson for Microsoft told the Star “this particular campaign was designed for UK experiences” and indicated there was no immediate plan to copy the plan in North America, although there might be “more information to share in the future.”

“The use of notifications is just one way in which Microsoft is working to tackle the scourge of online child abuse content,” the company said.

Microsoft’s move in the UK is clearly designed to address concerns raised by British Prime Minister David Cameron last week when he called on tech companies and Internet providers to do more to fight what he termed “the horrible crime” of online child abuse.

Cameron called on U.K. Internet providers to install a “porn block” that would prevent web users from accessing all kinds of pornography. He also wanted all new Internet accounts in the U.K. to have filters switched on by default that would block access to a list of illicit websites and images compiled by Britain’s national police agency known as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

In Canada, influential Tory MP Joy Smith said she would push for Ottawa to follow the UK’s “bold” measures - sparking a debate about how far government should go in trying to control the Internet in order to protect children. 

Still, many experts with long experience in the field believe that regardless what policies the public and governments choose to adopt, the tech companies could do a lot more on their own to curtail the proliferation of online child abuse images.

 “We need more active industry engagement from the IT sector to really keep the Internet safe for children,” says Paul Gillespie, the president of the Kids’ Internet Safety Alliance.

As the former head of the Toronto Police Service’s Child Exploitation Unit, Gillespie became famous when in 2003 he reached out to then Microsoft chief Bill Gates for help in taking on the explosion of Internet crimes against children. 

Gillespie convinced Microsoft to invest millions to help police develop a sophisticated database known as the Child Exploitation Tracking System. It helped police to catalogue and organize the millions of child abuse images they were finding in order to stand a better chance of identifying and rescuing children from online predators.

Yahoo intends to introduce a similar measure in the Bing pop-up warning button, according to  the Telegraph, but Google, the world's most used search engine, has no plans to use pop-ups.

 Google, which has a much wider share of the search market than Bing in the UK and around world, has not yet responded to the UK Prime Minister’s plea for tech companies to do more.

 But in a recent official blog announcement, Google said it was launching “a $5 million effort to eradicate child abuse imagery online.” 

 It noted that in 2011, in the U.S., the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s  reviewed 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child sexual abuse -- four times more than what they  saw in 2007. 

 More than half of the images and videos sent to NCMEC for analysis are found to have been uploaded to U.S. servers from outside the country. 

 Part of the money would go to what Google called “heroic organizations” in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere fighting child abuse online.

 Google said it was also investing $2 million in a Child Protection Technology Fund to “encourage the development of ever more effective tools”

One tool it was developing involves storing 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," says Google.

 “The Internet companies are perfectly placed to put the incredible thought leadership they possess within their organizations to the task of developing technologically top-drawer prevention efforts,” says former cop turned child protection advocate Paul Gillespie.

____________

Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter for the Star and the author of One Child at a Time: Inside the Police Hunt to Rescue Children from Online Predators. He can be reached at jsher@thestar.ca  and on Twitter @juliansher

 

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