Picture This: Should Google Filter Its Image Database? - InformationWeek

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John Foley
John Foley
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Picture This: Should Google Filter Its Image Database?

Kids playing baseball, eating ice cream, riding bikes--thousands of pictures of young people are available in Google Inc.'s index of more than 1 billion images from around the Web. Search harder, though, and you also might find images of naked children in sexually explicit situations.

That's because Google doesn't filter pornographic images from getting into its index, nor does it monitor the images in the index. Type in one of the keywords favored by child pornographers and pedophiles, and it's possible you'll get thumbnail images from one of the thousands of Web sites that make child porn available, which will then take you to that site. For users who don't want to encounter the stuff, the best bet is to enable Google's "safe search" function, which filters out explicit sexual content.

Child pornography is illegal--so shouldn't Google be more proactive in screening it out? Not everyone thinks so. Law-enforcement officials and child-protection advocates use Google and other search engines to locate child-porn Web sites and aid in their investigations. Because Google caches Web content daily, its database provides a valuable archive of Web sites that may be here today and gone tomorrow.

Parry Aftab -- 'I don't want Google to make a determination of what is and what isn't child pornography,' child-protection advocate Aftab says. 'I want professionals doing it.'

Parry Aftab

'I don't want Google to make a determination of what is and what isn't child pornography,' child-protection advocate Aftab says. 'I want professionals doing it.'
"The majority of people in my group use Google," says Susan Cantor, a supervisory special agent with Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When ICE agents launched their Falcon investigation two years ago, Google searches turned up child pornography quickly, Cantor says. Since then, the Web-site operators that distribute child porn have gotten more sophisticated and evasive, but they still can be found without too much effort.

If users report finding child pornography on Google, the company will remove the content and report it to law-enforcement officials. Google has cooperated in child-porn investigations, but a company spokesman declines to discuss how often or any other details of its involvement.

Besides, identifying child pornography can be subjective and disturbing, so it requires special training and experience, experts say. "I don't want Google to make a determination of what is and what isn't child pornography," child-protection advocate Parry Aftab says."I want professionals doing it."

Illustration by Anastasia Vasilakis

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Technology And The Fight Against Child Porn

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