of us use Google and other internet search engines without a second's
thought. Even our language is now expanded by a new verb – to
Today's papers confirm David Cameron joining in the calls for the search engine
providers to restrict the availability of images depicting child abuse that may
be accessed using internet search, calling on them to use "their
extraordinary technological capabilities" to deal with the problem of
despicable pictures and other material that are available to any who want to
I have no doubt
that these capabilities are indeed being used, as a spokesman for Google has confirmed. However, clearing the net of every picture,
every site and every peer-to-peer file sharing site is not just a Herculean
task, it is more like the one poor Sisyphus had to undertake. As soon as one
image or site is removed, more will replace them.
software applications that detect the nature of images and other content are
already being deployed, web addresses obtained and the authorities alerted
where criminal sites are detected. Law enforcement agencies share details of
the offenders detected with their counterparts in other countries. The UK
has one of the best examples of these in the Child Exploitation and Online
Protection Centre, now quite properly a part of the National Crime
Agency. One of the most far-reaching investigations of recent years, Operation Ore – resulting from the FBI finding the bank details of subscribers to
a child abuse site and sending them to any nation where the account holders
Yet there is a
key element of the internet search process that should be explored. My
business depends on performing well in response to what people ask Google to
find for them. I have to guess what someone who wants to be a bricklayer
might ask Google and make sure that my site comes up as one of the (preferably
first page) results.
This work is
done in two contexts – "organic" search engine optimisation and
"pay per click" campaigns (which generate the adverts you see
surrounding the organic search results) – all designed to get people to visit
my site and those of many other businesses. Hardly surprising then, that
getting the best "keywords" as search terms are known, is a big deal
for an internet dependent business, or that a whole industry has been spawned
to support this activity.
Yet it all
comes back to the question people ask Google, which made me wonder whether now
might be the right time for that and other search engine companies to stop the
illegal trade in child abuse images at a different point.
As the recent
trial of Mark Bridger for murdering young April Jones recently
demonstrated, paedophiles use the internet in exactly the same way as the rest
of us. Police examination of his computer revealed he had searched online
to deliberately locate vile images of child abuse.
Google and other search engines just stopped giving any results whatsoever in
response to searches that are obviously for this material, putting up a
message "Search term not permitted" or similar.
No doubt the
internet search providers will have a thousand and one reasons why this should
not happen and those on the left will decry this as censorship.
However, as I know from my business, keywords are no more than products in the
highly competitive internet search market and it is up to the providers to
choose if they want to provide or support particular terms. They should
stop doing so for these terms, right now.
is scheduled to meet Google and other providers later this month. I wish him
success in his efforts to persuade them start reducing the ease by which
criminals can make money by abusing children. Not responding to the search
terms used by paedophiles may well be a good place to start.