Back in November 2013, Microsoft and Google agreed to start blocking web searches for child abuse, including child pornography, and over a year later, a recent study reveals that the blocks had a significant impact in the number of searches for that material.
Even prior to this agreement, Microsoft started issuing warnings to those searching for child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) using Bing, and all the efforts made since which include removing images of the content from image searches seem to have paid off. A study that was published in the journal of Child Abuse & Neglect analyzed searches and monitored traffic levels of keywords most commonly used to search for CSEM over a period between January 2011 to August 2014, the result, an almost 70% reduction in search traffic following Microsoft and Google’s block attempts.
“The blocking efforts by Microsoft and Google…had a rapid and significant impact on child sexual exploitation material searches. The results show a precipitous drop in such searches.” – Professor Chad Steel, George Mason University
According to research author and professor at George Mason University Chad Steel, the systems put in place to prevent certain searches can be very effective, and the Microsoft and Google blocks are proof of that. Compare these results to Russian search engine Yandex, which doesn’t have any blocks in place, and the effects are even clearer. Since the possession of child pornography is not illegal in Russia and only becomes illegal when production and distribution involves children under the age of 14, search traffic on Yandex for CSEM has remained constant.
“Searchers from Russia and other locations where child pornography possession is not criminalized have continued to use these services. Additionally, the same lax enforcement environment has allowed searchers from the US to utilize Yandex with little fear of detection or referral to US law enforcement from the Russian authorities.” – Steel
Additionally, the report noted that almost a third of all traffic came from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, so another way to monitor for CSEM activity could be via internet service providers that offer cellular internet, however this could open them up to criticism from privacy advocates.
What’s important is that the current measures to block CSEM activity is working for the most part, 70% is a good number but there is still room for more prevention measures. Search giants like Microsoft and Google will only be improving the systems currently in place on a regular time scale.