New York's attorney general has teamed with social networking giants Facebook and MySpace to work on removing illegal child pornography images using advanced digital technology.
The effort, which also includes Friendster, hi5 and Canada-based isoHunt, involves digitally comparing photos found on their sites with an Internet library of more than 8,000 pornographic photos compiled by the New York AG's office. Using "hash values" -- digital fingerprints that tag each image with a unique code -- the database captures user-generated photos that match those in its inventory, then removes them or blocks their uploading.
New York AG Andrew Cuomo's office hopes the initiative will curb attempts to share or host illegal images.
"This is all about protecting kids, and the same way child pornographers use technology to distribute these disturbing images, we are using technology to shut off their digital pipeline," said Cuomo, who has announced that he is running for governor, in a public statement.
Because of their ease of use and low admission threshold, social networking and peer-to-peer sites have become a new hunting ground for pedophiles.
"Child porn in social networks is like a gateway drug," said Stanley Holditch, a spokesman for web-filtering software provider InternetSafety.com. "In order for it to work, peer-to-peer networks set up specifically for child pornography try to get people in that may not otherwise be interested."
The technology has the potential to stop the casual trading and sharing of porn. But, Holditch warned, it would only be effective if the database is large enough, and if the offending images are already in it. Child porn offenses made up about 25% of all pornography-related issues in the first quarter of 2009, but now account for nearly 80%, he said.
"Protecting Facebook users, especially the many young people who use our site, has always been a top priority," said Joe Sullivan, Facebook's chief security officer. "We devote significant resources to proactively monitor the site for suspicious activity and inappropriate content."
Nonetheless, "these images are extremely rare on Facebook, largely due to our real-name culture," added company spokesman Andrew Noyes. "When they are found, we report them immediately to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."
Two weeks ago, Cuomo cited Tagged.com for turning a blind eye to child porn, and threatened to sue the company if it didn't immediately address the problem. Other image-sharing sites the attorney general is urging to embrace the new technology include Flickr, Fotolog, Buzznet, Live Journal, Orkut and Black Planet.
The hash value database will continue to grow as law enforcement agencies around the state contribute additional images. At the same time, the codes under which the images are filed are made available to these agencies to aid with investigations and prosecutions of crimes against children.
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