Search engines step up to the plate with child abuse content reforms

Search engines' reforms will help remove child abuse content more quickly. Photo: Adam Peck/PA Wire

The search engines have undoubtedly stepped up to the plate.

Their reforms will clean up web searches, and help remove video child abuse content more quickly and comprehensively.

Much of what Microsoft and Google are promising has already been put into action; first in the UK and soon globally. Searches are already cleaner and safer.

Early indications are that 20 per cent of those who have sought child abuse images online in the UK in the past six weeks, and who have encountered the new warnings, deterrents and clean searches, have chosen to "go no further" with their illegal enquiries.

Critics say however that committed and experience criminals will not be deterred by these proposals as they can still access material on peer to peer networks and in the deep web.

They also point out that it is catching child abusers that matters, not stopping them looking at illegal material, and to do that we need better intelligence and more resources.

But some progress has undoubtedly been made to make accessing illegal child abuse images more difficult.

There has also been some progress made to make it more difficult for children to access legal but adult pornography.

More of the Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) have followed the lead of Talk Talk, and also come up with solutions to ensure families can block adult content when they sign up to their ISP contracts.

But once again, the warning from child safety experts is that parents can't assume the battle is won and out source their responsibilities. Nothing beats education and information, because curious children will always be able to find one "adult" computer with the content they seek.

The Prime Minister has forced solutions from the industry and although it is our job as journalists to criticise those who claim to have delivered solutions, on this occasion, I think we are scrutinising largely good measures.

The negative (which journalists always seek) is my observation that it has taken a very long time to get here; a long time for a very rich and smart industry to offer the solutions we have been begging for for a very long time.

I was one of the first journalists to campaign about this 10 years ago, because as a parent of young children I could see we were in uncharted and dangerous territory.

Then, like many other parents, I had to embrace new technology with one hand because it helped my kids enter a wonderful world, whilst censoring it as best as I could with the other because it opened a window onto another terrifyingly unsuitable adult landscape.

It was never easy to balance that very well and there wasn't support from the industry to help me to do it.

But today is a day when we can reflect that support is starting and something has at last been done, particularly with illegal child abuse content, although determined criminals may not be deterred.

Nothing, though, can beat parental responsibility and vigilance guarding against legal but unsuitable content.

So see this as a beginning - not the end.

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