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The end of child pornography? Google’s new web crawler could help

Internet giants like Facebook and Google have long aided in the fight against child pornography, and now, another technological weapon is being added to the government’s arsenal. Google has created a so-called “web crawler” that finds and identifies child pornography, helping the police and federal officials remove images of abuse from the Internet.

As per a new report released by the Internet Watch Foundation, Google’s new tool takes “individual child sexual abuse image codes,” and searches for such images across the web. Illegal content is then blocked from being uploaded or removed in a process that experts say is much more efficient than alternate practices. “The exciting bit is that the web crawler could make it much quicker to identify and remove hashed images,” the IWF report reads. “It will allow any duplicate images to be removed or blocked, and ease the burden on analysts, as they won’t have to see so many disturbing images.”

The web crawler is just one component of a larger project overseen by the “Googler in Residence” program of the IWF. The Silicon Valley-based company has an engineer dedicated to assisting the Foundation with its efforts, and both organizations seem optimistic about future innovations their partnership may facilitate.

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“[The web crawler] could be a real game changer,” the Foundation said in its report. “This is hugely important for the victims of child sex abuse, as this technology should block thousands of their illegal images from being viewed on the internet.” While the tool remains in its nascent, pilot stages, the implications of this work could herald the beginning of the end of child porn on the web.

“By harnessing our engineering expertise through the Googler in Residence program, (the foundation’s) skilled analysts have made amazing progress in identifying and then removing this illegal content from the web,” said Katie O’Donovan, a public policy manager for Google in the U.K. “We look forward to the next phase of the Googler in Residence project in 2016.”