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Search engines take on child abuse: The 'massive breakthrough' where little has changed


David Cameron was as anxious as the Daily Mail to herald today's joint announcement by Google and Microsoft as a historic moment.

For the Prime Minister it was "a massive breakthrough in cleaning up the Internet". To the newspaper it was a "stunning victory" for its own campaign to force the big search engines to do more to fight child porn, and indeed all porn.

In reality, the world has not greatly changed. Child protection experts said the only meaningful way to tackle paedophiles is to pursue them on shady peer-to-peer networks. David Cameron, seemingly responding to this, later promised to get the intelligence services and specialist police agencies to do just that.

In doing so he scored another political point. Locked in debate over whistle-blower Edward Snowden's revelations of online snooping, the Prime Minister had found an example of positive Internet espionage. No one could argue with that.

Following his Downing Street summit yesterday, Mr Cameron was like a head-teacher emerging from his study. When he raised this issue in the summer, Google and Microsoft told him this "couldn't be and shouldn't be done" but he warned them they must do better. Now they deserved praise for "the way they have responded to the initiative I launched back in July".

There were even supportive comments from Google's Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to back him up.

It seems extraordinary that these vast global companies with market values of $300 billion could still be dictated to by Downing Street. But Google, in particular, is in need of good public relations after being relentlessly pursued by the media over tax. By handing Mr Cameron - and the Mail - an easy win on a subject where they cannot afford to be seen as complacent, the Internet giants will be hoping for an easier ride from press and politicians.

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