Google and Microsoft have agreed upon a set of changes that will see images of child abuse blocked from their search engines for the first time.
Despite the companies saying in the past that it “couldn’t and shouldn’t be done”, the internet giants have now bowed to pressure from Prime Minister David Cameron – who said he would bring in new legislation if they did not act.
Illegal content will be blocked from appearing for more than 100,000 queries “that might be related to the sexual abuse of kids”, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt told the Daily Mail.
An additional 13,000 search terms will return warning messages at the top of the page telling the user that indecent images of children are illegal and offering advice on where they can get help.
“As important,” Mr Schmidt said, “we will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global.”
Mr Cameron welcomed the announcement, which came ahead of an Internet Safety Summit with Google and Microsoft, which operates the Bing and Yahoo search engines, at Downing Street later today.
Google said that while “no algorithm is perfect” and search engines cannot prevent new images of child abuse being uploaded to the internet, the company would soon be applying advanced new programmes to detect and remove images – as well as providing its technical expertise to the Internet Watch Foundation.
The Prime Minister said child protection experts had drawn up the list of “unambiguous” search terms which would undoubtedly lead to sex abuse images and videos.
“If you used these you were looking for child abuse images online,” he said.
“At the time, Google and Microsoft - who cover 95 per cent of the market - said blocking search results couldn't be done, that it shouldn't be done.
“They argued that it was against the very principle of the internet and search engines to block material, even if there was no doubt that some of the search terms being used by paedophiles were abhorrent in a modern society.
“I did not accept that then and I do not accept that now.”
Calls for the internet companies to take action against searching for illegal content reached boiling point following the trials of child killers Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazel earlier this year.
Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones, and Hazel, who killed 12-year-old Tia Sharp, both used the internet to search for child abuse images before the killings.
Mr Cameron told the Mail: “We learnt from cases like the murder of Tia Sharp and April Jones that people will often start accessing extreme material via a simple search in one of the mainstream engines.”
Mr Schmidt said Google has been working with Microsoft and law enforcement agencies since the summer following strong warnings from the Government to take action.
“We've listened, and in the last three months put more than 200 people to work developing new, state-of-the-art technology to tackle the problem,” he said.