It’s a topic that has provoked fierce debate recently – whether Prime Minister David Cameron is right to, or even capable of, banning pornographic images which he says are “corroding childhood”.
Mr Cameron has threatened to introduce tough new laws to crackdown on internet service providers who fail to blacklist key search terms for abusive images within the next three months.
Now, Microsoft’s search engine Bing has launched a pop-up warning to alert UK internet users to the fact that they are searching for illegal child abuse images.
The pop-up, says: “Warning! Child abuse material is illegal.” And, it goes on to offer a click through section for help and advice.
Microsoft says it already has a stringent policy of removing links to illegal content as soon as it can.
But, the firm has now gone a step further by introducing its new pop-up warning. A Microsoft spokesman explained: “If someone in the UK tries to use search terms on Bing which can only indicate they are looking for illegal child abuse content, they will activate the Bing notification platform, which will produce an on-screen notification telling them that child abuse content is illegal.”
The pop up will direct them to stopitnow.org, an organisation which works to prevent the sexual abuse of children, offering help services to anyone with questions or concerns, along with counselling services.
It will not, however, block access to such content. And those who work to protect vulnerable children have already criticised Mr Cameron’s plans, and moves such as that made by Bing, as not going far enough.
Jim Gamble, who is the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre, said proposals to cut access to child abuse images by simply removing results from search engines such as Google or Bing would be “laughed at” by offenders.
He said predators were downloading abusive images on a peer-to-peer basis, not through search engines, making the material they are accessing more difficult to police.
“We’ve got to attack the root cause, invest with new money, real investment in child protection teams, victim support and policing on the ground,” said Mr Gamble. “Let’s create a real deterrent,” he added, “not a pop-up that paedophiles will laugh at.”
And tech forum users agreed, saying the move would simply force paedophiles to coin new terms in order to find illegal images.
But despite Mr Gamble’s comments and any misgivings about the effectiveness of the latest move, Bing is the first search engine to introduce such pop-up warnings, and is expected to be followed by others before Mr Cameron’s measures come into force.
And, the CEOP has said while pop-up warnings are not “the whole solution,” they may make those who are curious about child abuse images think twice before starting down such a route.
Bing’s new notification system will be triggered when internet users look up search terms from a list handed to them by the CEOP.