It's not up to Google to stop child abuse, says expert

Filed Under: Google, Law & order, Microsoft

Man hands on computer. Image courtesy of ShutterstockWhen your children go online, who should be their nanny?

Is it the internet big boys who should keep children from being preyed on, perhaps by adopting a blacklist of "abhorrent" search queries that leave no doubt that a searcher's intent is malevolent?

That's one piece of what UK Prime Minister David Cameron put forth in a speech in July, when he announced new measures to protect children and challenged outfits such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to do their part.

Now, the former head of Britain's online child protection agency, Jim Gamble, has deemed the government policy nonsensical, being based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how paedophiles target victims.

According to The Independent, Gamble suggested that Cameron targeted Google because the company didn't fork over enough tax in the UK.

Cameron was badly briefed, Gamble said. It's not search terms or filtering that will help protect children - rather, we need to instead look at stopping predators much earlier.

Gamble resigned as head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in 2010.

The Telegraph quoted Gamble as saying that we're missing the chance to explore the motivation and methodology of child killers such as Mark Bridger, who killed 5-year-old April Jones, and Stuart Hazell, who murdered 12-year-old Tia Sharp.

Gamble said:

It’s nonsensical. The advice to the Prime Minster is bad from people who clearly don’t understand the first thing about the internet and child protection. We are now focusing on Google rather than investing in greater research: why they do it, when they do it. Why? Google [doesn't] pay enough tax.

At the time he gave his speech, Cameron said that if the search giants don't implement a blacklist voluntarily, legislation forcing them to do so would follow in short order.

Access denied. Image courtesy of ShutterstockIn addition, he announced changes to the law that would make extreme pornography harder to obtain, such as making it illegal to depict rape in porn.

The government also plans to institute pervasive network-level filtering at the default level of internet access of even legal, adult content in the UK.

Mobile phone operators will implement adult content filters that users over 18 can opt out of, while family-friendly filters were due to be applied by the end of August across 90% of public WiFi wherever children are likely to be present.

Other filters are coming for broadband within the next two years.

All this focus on search terms and filtering misses a much bigger opportunity, Gamble said at a conference in Belfast:

Rather than having a debate about predatory paedophiles and how we can stop them earlier, we have had a debate about Google and blocking search terms... Mark Bridger or Stuart Hazell weren't made paedophiles because they searched for something on Google.

Is Gamble right? Is it a waste of time to go after companies such as Google?

Yes, the search giants should be forced to intercept search terms suggesting child abuse.

Gamble's right: a Google search doesn't turn somebody into a paedophile.

But we should adopt both approaches plus any other means to protect children.

Image of man on computer and access denied courtesy of Shutterstock.

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7 Responses to It's not up to Google to stop child abuse, says expert

  1. Going after google is a big waste of time. Most predators aren't using google to search for victims. The ones that use the net for it are using facebook and other social media sites. Of course then there are the ones that don't even use the net at all. Sexual Predators have been since the beginning of man and they will likely remain for a long time. Gamble is correct in that understanding their behavior is more important. It is clear most sexual predators have some mental issues. If we could understand these better perhaps we can get to recognize the signs and get these people help before they do something to hurt someone. Of course some are just evil SOBs.

    Other steps that can be taken to help protect children and other people are actually simple. For the internet parents need to actually try watching their kids when they are on the net rather then use it as a babysitter. Parents can put in site restrictions so children can't access sites parents deem unsafe. Their is monitoring software they can get to help monitor where their kids are going on the net and what they are doing. I get the feeling most of the kids to fall prey to these online predators are ones who are in their teens and aren't exactly getting enough parental attention.

    For adults, try using common sense when meeting someone you have only met online. Meet in a public place. Bring a friend with you. Learn how to defend yourself. Don't go home with strangers you meet in a bar. For that matter try not to go to a bar alone. Especially if your a female. Sexual Predators lurk in all sorts of places. Not just the net.

    As for the solution of trying to censor web access. This is a mistake. It isn't something you can really do. Just look at all the effort that has been put into trying to shut down the pirate bay/block access to it. It just really isn't working and it won't ever work.. I also don't think banning porn there that has rape in it, even if it is just simulated is going to help things. That kind of porn might actually detour some people from actually going out and doing it. Though those people who actually do enjoy that kind of porn do need some mental help.

  2. Roy watson · 407 days ago

    Well, when you put it like that, then given the massive predominance of child sexual abuse as originating within the family and social circle, the one measure which would do most to protect children is taking every child from its family. What? Come on, Lisa, "we should adopt... any other approaches to protect children."

  3. H. Hunter · 407 days ago

    The Internet is a domain of information. Blocking search terms could potentially reduce the ability for people to learn and understand about the very thing you are trying to prevent. Blocking and filtering could prevent an abused from finding they help they need. Horrible idea. Parents should do their jobs, know who, what, when, and where there children are going to be.

  4. Tony G · 407 days ago

    Considering how hard it is sometimes to combine search terms to find what you are looking for, this should surely demonstrate that it is simply not possible to filter effectively.

    Chances are you will stop kids finding out about things such as STDs, safe s** because they don't want to ask parents or teachers.

    Those that want to know how to circumvent controls. If we can't stop the 97% of email that is spam, what hope have we got realistically of sensibly filtering searches. All we do is create underground search engines.

    Education and tackling the source are the twin tracks that will reduce, not eliminate the problem.

  5. What I find most disturbing about this post is that the Head of a Child Protection Agency is coming out AGAINST this and ANY protection measure. In my mind any effort helps, why on earth would you come down on anything - if you were FOR protecting children!!!_This may not eradicate all pedophiles, but it may help in getting to some.__What on earth is this world coming to?__

  6. Ambianca · 407 days ago

    Let's just boil it down to essentials. What Mr. Cameron has basically said is, "Either do what we're telling you to do 'willingly', or we'll force you to do it." I don't understand how anyone can call that anyone other than coercion. It's no different from rape at gun-point, wherein the perpetrator says, "Do what I want 'willingly', or I'll shoot you."

    "But we should adopt both approaches plus any other means to protect children."

    What do you mean, "we"? By what right do "we" interfere with the rights of everyone by imposing coercive measures that won't solve the problem in the first place?

    Stomping on freedom "for the children" is not just unimaginative and reckless, it's substituting one crime for another.

  7. anonymous · 407 days ago

    Lets also make the builders of roads responsible for bad drivers, and the makers of firearms responsible for firearm related crime.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.