On November 18, 2013, Google announced its plans to crack down on child pornography on its search engine. In addition to removing over 100,000 search results, Google will post warning signs about potentially unlawful content, links to child pornography abuse charities, and links to support websites when any of over 13,000 search terms are searched by users. Microsoft will follow suit with similar efforts on its Bing search engine.
These announcements came just a few months after British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Google and Microsoft to limit the accessibility to child pornography on their search engines. Google plans to remove illegal pictures through “hashing” technology which David Drummond, Google’s Chief Legal Officer, says “tag[s] known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere. Each offending image in effect gets a unique fingerprint that our computers can recognize without humans having to view them again.”
While virtually everyone would agree that limiting the accessibility to child pornography on the internet is a positive thing, these new tactics are not without fault. For example, the line between pornography and art or innocent family photos can be ambiguous, especially to a computer program scanning the images. In removing content from its search results, Google will also inevitably remove some legitimate content. This realization has led certain internet rights and free speech groups to speak out against the proposed plan.
Additionally, the effectiveness of the plan has been called into question. While Google and Microsoft’s intentions are admirable, it is not apparent how effective the plan will be. These search engines have already been actively removing illegal content from their sites for years. However, simply taking content of off the search engines does not remove it from the internet. Individuals seeking the unlawful content can still gain access to it through other websites. In fact, most child pornography viewers probably already seek out the illegal content through means other than conventional search engines, resorting instead to anonymous sites, such as Tor, to gain access to this content.
Google’s and Microsoft’s increased efforts to limit the availability of child pornography on the Internet were in direct response to a push by Prime Minister Cameron to make child pornography harder to find. Indeed, while Cameron approved of Google’s and Microsoft’s efforts, he warned that if the companies do not move quickly enough, he would bring forward legislation to achieve his goal of preventing people from accessing child pornography on the internet.
This raises an interesting example of the effects of a single country’s influence on a company having broad, multinational effects. Google is not just limiting its plans to the British version of Google–it is applying it worldwide in over 150 languages. As a result, this push for a change by a government official from one country will have an effect on Google users worldwide. In today’s technologically-driven world, the relationships between businesses and politicians of a single country can create a butterfly effect which quickly propagates that change globally, regardless of the will of other countries. It will be interesting to see how Google and Microsoft will implement these changes in the upcoming months and the effects that they will have on Google users everywhere.
 BBC News, Google and Microsoft agree steps to block abuse images, Nov. 18, 2013.
 PCWorld, Google to warn users of 13,000 search terms associated with child pornography, Nov. 18, 2013.
 David Drummond, There are some things no one should be able to Google, Jun. 16, 2013.
 Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, The Tradeoffs in Google’s New Crackdown on Child Pornography, Nov. 18, 2013.
 Hayley Tsukayama, The Washington Post, Google, Microsoft modify Internet searches to exclude more child pornography results, Nov. 18, 2013.