Social networking software

New York A.G. Goes After Child Porn on Social Networks

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has created a database aimed at keeping child pornography off of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace.

The database holds digital signatures of more than 8,000 child pornography images . According to Cuomo's office, each signature is akin to a digital fingerprint. Social networking companies can use the database to monitor their sites for any of these signatures and keep the pornographic images from appearing on their sites.

Both Facebook and Myspace have agreed to use the database, according to Cuomo's office.

"To stop the flow of child pornography online, we must be vigilant and we must be creative," Cuomo said in a written statement. "This initiative joins law enforcement, hi-tech innovation, and strong partnerships with industry leaders like Facebook and MySpace. This new resource gives companies a tool to make their sites safer, and I call on all social networking sites to use it immediately."

Cuomo's office noted that they have approached 11 other networking companies and peer-to-peer sites, including Black Planet; Buzznet; eSpin/eCrush; Flickr; Flixster; Fotolog; Friendster; hi5; Live Journal; MyLife; Orkut; Stickam, and Stardoll.

"We have worked proactively with states' attorneys general and law enforcement on a range of Internet safety and security issues and we are pleased to collaborate with Attorney General Cuomo on this important initiative," said Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan. "Protecting Facebook users, especially the many young people who use our site, has always been a top priority and we devote significant resources to developing innovative systems to proactively monitor the site for suspicious activity and the rare cases of illegal content."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, called it a good move but said it may have limited success. "It makes sense," said Gottheil. "It will slow down the distribution of these images. It won't stop the traffic, or the use of social networking sites for, well, networking by traders. But it will help."

Gottheil noted that an image's digital signature changes if the image is altered at all. Even if the image is only resized, then its signature changes and the image will make it through a site's net.

And since there are millions of images online of child pornography, having the digital signatures of about 8,000 of them is only a drop in the bucket. While Cuomo's office says the database will grow over time, there's a huge number of images to try to keep up with.

Gottheil also noted that sites like Facebook haven't been known to carry a huge number of child pornography images.

"Facebook's weak privacy makes it a less likely place to expose any sort of illicit material," he added. "The main point, of course, is to enhance Andrew Cuomo's reputation. Everyone is in favor of controlling child pornography."

This isn't the first time that the likes of Facebook and Myspace have worked with state attorneys general offices.

Just over two years ago, Facebook said it was boosting privacy protections as part of an ongoing effort to work with 49 state attorneys general to protect children online.

Facebook also participated in the Internet Safety Task Force , which was created by MySpace as part of an agreement with the attorneys general. Under that agreement, MySpace agreed to implement 60 new features or design changes intended to protect children from online predators.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

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