In July Microsoft’s Bing search engine became the first to introduce pop-up blocks for people in the UK conducting search’s for online images of child abuse.

The pop-up informs users the content is illegal and provides details of a support and counselling service. It is activated when people enter words on a “blacklist” compiled by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).

Yahoo, which uses Bing’s technology, said they are considering a similar move. Google, the UK’s most popular search engine, which last December was found by a consumer group to have an 88% share of the UK search engine market, is not planning to use pop-ups but said it would continue to report material and had a ‘zero tolerance’ on the issue.

This new method in trying to combat the problem came in after Prime Minister David Cameron said internet companies needed to do more to block access to such images. He called for a message warning people of the consequences a criminal conviction could have and for internet companies to block certain searches from providing results.

A Ceop report this year highlighted how distributors of child abuse images could evade detection by using encrypted networks and other secure methods. Ceop acknowledged its “blacklist” could not include every search term that might lead to images of abuse.

The internet has enabled those with an interest in child abuse to share files and conduct online discussions within ‘closed’ groups and private networks. To join users have to upload images (which can run into thousands) which by-pass search engines. The images are sometimes labelled as ‘original’ images of child pornography. Along with the anonymity of internet chat rooms it makes it easier for potential perpetrators to groom children and teenagers.

Sexting is the creation and forwarding of provocative images through mobile phones and/or the internet and has a part to play in the problem of online child abuse. Research* indicates that between 15% and 40% of under-age teenagers have been exposed to sexting. It can be seen as a form of grooming where typically a male will pressurise a female into sending sexually suggestive images of herself to him or he will film or photograph her performing a sexual act upon him with or without her consent.

These can then be used to ‘blackmail’ the victim with the threat of the images being shared between his (and the victim’s) social circle and beyond courtesy of the internet and mobile phone technology. These images could easily be found by people who want to find them.

Jordans Lead Solicitor of the Child Abuse Compensation Department said: “Jordans believes what’s really needed to combat the problem of online child abuse and exploitation is increasing resources for organisations like the Internet Watch Foundation and CEOP to tackle this head-on”.

*Ringrose, Gill, Livingstone & Harvey: “A Qualitative Study of Children, Young People and ‘Sexting’”, NSPCC, May 2012.


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