Google has decided to be even more
"proactive" in fighting child pornography, crafting a database of flagged images that will be made available
to law enforcement, investigators and even its own competitors. Somehow the company plans to make it searchable while simultaneously deleting the offending items from the web.
There's no reason for Google to be doing this other than as a response to the UK government's consensus that Google = Internet, and is therefore responsible for policing everything it crawls. Unfortunately, many offending images will remain beyond the reach of Google. Additionally, turning a hunt for child porn into an algorithmic search will lead to false positives and deletions, as anyone familiar with ContentID and YouTube
can readily attest.
The politicians crusading for a child porn-free internet will be satiated. Google's new offensive plays to their strengths, namely:
1. Proclaiming something must be done.
2. Allowing someone else to do that "something."
The UK's current porn-blocking efforts (of regular, legal porn) are a comedy of errors. "Child safety" filtering on mobile networks has already resulted in the mistaken blocking of YouTube, Orange, and The Jargon File
. With these filters becoming mandatory next year
, more and more sites will find themselves cut off from their users due to the general ineptness of blocking software crafted at the behest of hand-wringing bureaucrats.
Child porn, however, remains the true
enemy, especially in Britain, where its profile is heightened due to recent events. In the oft-echoed call for someone (namely, Google
) to do something about child porn, a rather startling statistic was quoted
. According to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF -- an industry-funded group that compiles lists of keywords and illegal abuse sites for subsequent banning by Google, et al), "more than 1.5 million internet users in the UK mistakenly viewed child abuse images last year." (Only 40,000 were reported to the IWF, a point which is left open to speculation.)
It's a rather alarming number. But is it accurate? UK website Ministry of Truth went digging into the math behind this "statistic."
The "1.5 million" quote above was pulled from an IWF press release that offered no citations. Perusing the IWF's site itself, MoT found another
press release that applied a bit of hedging to the claim.
New study reveals child sexual abuse content as top online concern and potentially 1.5m adults have stumbled upon it.
Note that one word that changes everything.
Hang on a second, we’ve just gone from “1.5 million adults have stumbled across” child porn to “potentially 1.5 million adults have stumbled upon it”, which rather starts to suggest that the IWF’s “study” might not be quite what they’re making it out to be and, sure enough, a little further down the page we hit paydirt:
The ComRes poll conducted among a representative sample of 2058 British adults for the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows the vast majority of people in Britain think that child sexual abuse content (“child pornography”) (91%) and computer generated images or cartoons of child sexual abuse (85%) should be removed from the internet.
Riiiiight… so it’s not actually a study, it’s an opinion poll; a grade of evidence that generally sits just above the story you heard from a bloke down the pub who swears blind that his cousin’s boyfriend knows a bloke who knows the bloke that it actually happened to.
Long story short (although the long story is a very interesting read), the poll used skewed demographics (weighted heavily towards the 55-and-older set) to produce this meaningless percentage:
"- 3% have seen/encountered 'Child pornography'"
According to the 2011 Census the adult population of Great Britain is just over 48.1 million and 3% of that is a little under 1.43 million people, which the IWF has rounded up to 1.5 million (ignoring the usual rules on rounding) for its press releases.
The problem with accepting this at face value (and then attaching it to multiple press releases) are numerous. For starters, as many as 1 in 7 UK citizens have never used a computer, much less have internet access. For another, one person's "child porn" is another person's "adult film starring consenting, paid adults." One needs look no further than the Daily Mail's disastrous attempt to show how easy it was to find child porn
simply by using the same search terms as those found on a convicted child killer's internet history.
The Mail's Amanda Platell claimed to have taken a journey to the "hell known as internet child porn
." Unfortunately, her only souvenir from the trip was a misidentified clip from a 13-year-old (adult) porn film. True, the content of the film would be repulsive to many (simulated sexual assault), but the film was made and distributed legally.
Not only are the number of "potential" child porn viewers lower
than the IWF claims, but the number of readily accessible pages containing child porn images on the internet is more "rounding error" than panic-worthy
Here are the numbers the IWF came up with in its 2012 report.
In total, the IWF found 9,550 web pages that hosted child sexual abuse content spread across 1,561 internet domains in 38 different countries. 60% of the child sexual abuse content identified by the IWF was found on ‘one click hosting website’, i.e. a file hosting service/cyberlocker which, for reasons known only to itself, the IWF insists on referring to as a ‘web locker’ despite the fact that no else else seems to use that particular phrase.
A brief glance at that total should readily tell you the percentage is insignificant. And this is a number compiled by a group tasked with hunting down child pornography, an entity that would have a much higher hit rate than the average person browsing the web. Here's how it stacks up to the whole of the internet.
Out of an estimated 14,8 billion indexed web pages, the British public reported just 9,696 web pages (0.000065%) containing child pornography to the IWF in the whole of 2012.
In that same year, just 1561 internet domains (0.001%) were reported to the IWF that were found to contain child pornography out of a minimum of 145.5 million registered domains (and that’s just for five gTLDs and one country specific domain).
In fact, on a single ordinary day in May 2013, 92 times as many new domains were registered across just the six TLDs we have figures for, than were reported and found to be hosting child porn by members of the UK general public in the whole of 2012.
How hard would it be to access child porn if you weren't looking for it specifically? The Ministry of Truth puts your odds at 1 in 2.6 million searches. (MoT points out the odds will fluctuate depending on search terms used, but for the most part, it's not the sort of thing someone unwittingly stumbles upon.)
All those demanding Google do more to block child porn fail to realize there's not much more it can do. The UK already has an underlying blocking system filtering out illegal images at the ISP level, and Google itself runs its own blocker as well.
The above calculations should put the child porn "epidemic" in perspective. As far as the web that Google actively "controls
," it's doing about as much as it can to keep child porn and internet users separated. There are millions of pages Google can't or doesn't index and those actively looking
for this material will still be able to find it. Google (and most other "internet companies") can't really do more than they're already doing already. But every time a child pornography-related, high profile crime hits the courtroom (either in the UK or the US), the politicians instantly begin pointing fingers at ISPs and search engines, claiming they're not doing "enough" to clean up the internet, something that explicitly
isn't in their job description. And yet, they do more in an attempt to satiate the ignorant hunger of opportunistic legislators.
If Google is "the face of the internet" as so many finger pointers claim, than the "internet" it "patrols" is well over 99% free of illegal images, according to a respected watchdog group. But accepting that fact means appearing unwilling to "do something," an unacceptable option for most politicians.