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Peter Walker: "Search term not permitted" - a better way for Google to combat paedophiles on the net.

Walker peterPeter Walker retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2003.  He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk.  Follow Peter on Twitter.

Most 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 "Google" something.

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 see them.

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.

Sophisticated 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 resided. 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.

It's time 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.

David Cameron 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.


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