Can you imagine the Herculean effort of removing a particular topic from the Internet altogether? It doesn't just seem difficult, it seems downright impossible -- but if anyone could do it, it seems like Google could. On Saturday, Google announced that it's dedicating millions of dollars and a massive new technical effort to rid the Internet of one of its seediest aspects: child pornography.
Google has taken a lot of criticism over the years that the company hasn't done enough to prevent the spread of child sex abuse images, but developers are aggressively stepping up the fight now. Thanks to their "hashing" technology, child pornography images will be able to be tagged, blocked, reported ... and ultimately eradicated from the web.
In a post on Google's blog, Google Giving director Jacquelline Fuller wrote,
We're in the business of making information widely available, but there's certain 'information' that should never be created or found. 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. (...) Behind these images are real, vulnerable kids who are sexually victimized and victimized further through the distribution of their images. It is critical that we take action as a community -- as concerned parents, guardians, teachers, and companies -- to help combat this problem.
Google's plan is to create a database of hashed child porn images -- images which have been flagged by child protection organizations -- which can be shared with other tech companies, law enforcement, and charities. Computers can recognize the hashed code and then locate, block, and report all duplicate images on the Web, while the database will let these groups swap information and work together to prosecute when possible.
Repeatedly hashing, tagging, and taking down images won't wipe the Web perfectly clean of every single harmful image, but it's a hell of a step in the right direction. For Google to invest this much in terms of work and cash ($5 million on the effort to remove existing images and another $2 million to research more effective ways to find and report images) is great news for parents and kids.
Some might say this effort is doomed to fail, that technically savvy deviants will figure out ways to circumvent Google's work. But if there's something that can be done -- anything -- why not do it? Some fights are worth it. In 2011, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said it received 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child abuse. That's four times more than 2007. If Google can reduce that number even by a small percentage, I'd say they deserve applause for their efforts.
What do you think about this initiative by Google?
Image via Google