Back in the day.. .by which I mean about a decade ago (when I used to work a tone of the big search engines), we were approached by a Middle Eastern Country to come up with a web search engine which could be controlled so that content from specific sites on the web could be excluded and specific queries and queries about specific topics would return no results.
At the time, the consensus from our engineering team was that it was mostly pretty doable. The problem we had was that the customer wanted very strong guarantees that we’d stop everything, and back then we couldn’t guarantee that we would never show content on specific topics if that content was found indirectly. It had a pretty high “ick” factor too, so we passed on the opportunity.
It was thus with a feeling of being somewhat underwhelmed by recent announcements from Google and Bing that they would be implementing filters for the 13,000 plus queries which have been shown to link back to child pornography or pedophilia related sites. The announcement has been greeted with limited ballyhoo… but positive ballyhoo nonetheless. The fact really not commented on is that this is something they have had the engineering ability to do for at-least the last decade. No doubt the efficiency of the process has improved over the years, but there was absolutely nothing stopping them doing something very similar a long time ago.
In fairness, both Google and Bing have been responsive in taking down offending content when that content is reported to them… but it’s always been a proactive response. The root of this reticence (as is most things bad) is legal. The Digital Millennium Copyright act (amongst many other things) gave the search engines ‘safe harbor’ against being accused of copyright infringement for indexing content published on the web. A corollary to this argument was that Search Engines would loose this safe harbor if they could be accused of manually “editing” the index. The end result was that search engines (like my old one) steadfastly resisted doing anything other than make algorithmic changes which impact the entire index or only removed URLs when instructed to by a Judge. This thinking has ruled the world of web search ever since.
The recent furor around the issue of kiddie porn and search has been led by the Brits and is gaining traction over here. The changes just announced will likely calm that excitement at a cosmetic level, a couple of news cycles later it will be long forgotten… sadly, the problem won’t be. The folks into this toxic garbage don’t rely on search engines, rather pics are traded like baseball card between like minded “enthusiasts.” These changes might slow down the curious or beginners, but it won’t stop the hardcore… it’s too little and too late.