IWF teams with web behemoths to battle child abuse imagery

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has teamed up with Google, Facebook and Twitter to remove millions of child sexual abuse images.

IWF works with web giants to eliminate child sexual abuse images.
IWF works with web giants to eliminate child sexual abuse images.

A new photo tagging system could be a game-changer in the fight against paedophiles.

The UK government is sharing its own database of child abuse images with IWF for the first time. Each image has been assigned it's own digital fingerprint or “hash” number, making it traceable without being viewed. The IWF says it is not able to hash videos at this time, but has hopes to offer this feature in the future.

Facebook, Google and Twitter will be able to remove the images quicker with the hash numbers in place. The hash is generated algorithmically and once assigned to an image, it cannot be changed.

Many internet companies can make use of the hash list according to the IWF. They include companies that provide services such as the upload, storage or search of images, filtering services, hosting services, social media and chat services, data centres and connectivity services.

The IWF says it removes around 500 web addresses containing child sexual abuse material each day, with one web address sometimes containing up to thousands of images.

The Prime Minister launched the Child Abuse Image Database (Caid) in December 2014. Images on Caid assembled by the home office include ones that have been found on computers snatched by police, which may not have been uploaded, online.

The Caid list will also include a list of hash numbers (not images themselves) reported by the public and discovered by the IWF's own analysts. The hash list will be shared with all of the IWF's members to further avoid uploading of the images.

“Some of those images will have never yet been in circulation on the internet because perhaps the offender has taken them him/herself or someone has shared them peer-to-peer,” IWF spokeswoman Emma Hardy told the BBC.

Security specialists said the move would not block content on the darknet, where abusers often post images. Former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble said it may still be possible for abusers to share the images online.

Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron said intelligence experts and organised crime specialists would team up to tackle child abuse images on the darknet.

An NSPCC spokesman said: "This technological breakthrough is really positive and should enable the industry to take a far more proactive role in blocking these horrendous pictures."