Online Child Porn – What the Papers Aren’t Telling You.

In the wake of the convictions of Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger for sexually motivated murders of children, the papers are awash with speculative commentaries on online child pornography.

The Daily Mail (of course) wants to know ‘What WILL it take for Google to block child porn?’ even though it has yet to admit that it’s own efforts to find any were an abject and utterly embarrassing failure.

What we need here, and what no one will get from the press, is a sense of perspective, so let’s look at just a few figures that will help put things into context.

How big is the Internet?

Well, no one really knows and things are changing all the time, so it’s impossible to any precise figures to that question but to give you a rough idea:

Google’s search index is estimated to contain details of around 44-45 billion web pages, although that will include a lot of historical data relating to pages that have since fallen down the Internet memory hole.

By way of comparison, Microsoft’s Bing search engine is estimated to have indexed around 13.5 billion web pages and Yahoo’s index is currently estimated to contain around 10.5 billion web pages.

It’s therefore estimated that the current size of the ‘Indexed web’ – i.e. websites/pages than can be located using a search engine – is somewhere around 15 billion ‘live’ webpages, but this is still just a fraction of the total number of web pages out there and doesn’t include websites that don’t allow themselves to be indexed or which restrict the ability of search engines to index their content, one of the biggest of which Facebook.

As far as registered domain names are concerned, again there are no clear or accurate global figures but to give you some idea of scale, on the 30th May 2013, there were 145,498,970 domains registered for just the five most popular generic top level domains ( ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.org’, ‘.biz’, ‘.info’) and the most popular Country code TLD (‘.us’) and on that same day 143,800 new domains were registered and 112,589 existing domains were deleted, giving a net gain of 31,211 domains, and 189,302 domains were transferred.

That is just one day’s movements on six top level domains out of… well, you count them for yourself but it’s looks to be somewhere around 300 in total.

Finally there is this fascinating piece of research by an anonymous ‘hacker’ who used a botnet to conduct a rapid Internet ‘census’ which produced these figures for the number of individual IP addresses in current use:

So, how big is the Internet?
That depends on how you count. 420 Million pingable IPs + 36 Million more that had one or more ports open, making 450 Million that were definitely in use and reachable from the rest of the Internet. 141 Million IPs were firewalled, so they could count as “in use”. Together this would be 591 Million used IPs. 729 Million more IPs just had reverse DNS records. If you added those, it would make for a total of 1.3 Billion used IP addresses. The other 2.3 Billion addresses showed no sign of usage.

And according to other data contained in this report, this particular census detected an active web server on 70.84 million of these in-use IP addresses.

So, to paraphrase Douglas Adams:

The Internet… is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to the World Wide Web.

Okay, so with 70 million web servers, well over 145 million domains and at least 14 billion indexed live web page, what are the chances of Job Public accidentally running into child pornography without actually looking for it deliberately?

Well, if you do accidentally run across any kiddie porn online then the place to report it is website of the Internet Watch Foundation.

The IWF takes reports from the general public, investigates the content and if it finds any child porn it either works with the police to get it taken down, if on a website that falls within the UK’s jurisdiction, or it can add any offending web pages to the confidential Cleanfeed blacklist.

Yes – in case you didn’t already realise it (and most people don’t!) – if you live in the UK then your access to the internet is already screened through a privately content-blocking system, which is managed by BT, which filters out any webpages that have been blacklisted for containing child pornography.

In fact, the Cleanfeed system has been operating since 2004 but surveys undertaken in 2007 & 2008 showed that 90% of the UK public were completely unaware of its existence and of those that had heard of it only 15% or so understood it completely.

This is hardly surprising when to consider that on a day when the press is choked to the gills with articles demanding that more should be done to block child porn, many of which are pointing the finger of blame at Google and other search engine providers, a Google news search I ran just a minute or so ago failed to turn up a single news article containing a reference to the Cleanfeed system.

The first rule of Cleanfeed, is that you never talk about Cleanfeed -

- not if you’ve got an agenda or you’re pitching for more government resources for your organisation.

Nevertheless, the IWF publishes figures in its annual report which show the number of reports of suspected online child pornography it receives every year together with data which shows how often members of the public had actually found child porn and one how many web pages and web sites child porn had been found.

These are the IWF’s figures from its 2012 annual report:

Number of reports received – 39,211, of which 35,821 (91%) related to content that the person making the report believed to be child pornography.

Number of reports confirmed as containing potentially criminal content with the remit of the IWF – 9,702, of which 9,696 involved what was potentially child sexual abuse.

In total, the IWF found 9,550 web pages that hosted child sexual abuse content spread across 1,561 internet domains in 38 different countries. 60% of the child sexual abuse content identified by the IWF was found on ‘one click hosting website’, i.e. a file hosting service/cyberlocker which, for reasons known only to itself, the IWF insists on referring to as a ‘web locker’ despite the fact that no else else seems to use that particular phrase.

Now, let’s put all this into perspective.

Out of an estimated 14,8 billion indexed web pages, the British public reported just 9,696 web pages (0.000065%) containing child pornography to the IWF in the whole of 2012.

In that same year, just 1561 internet domains (0.001%) were reported to the IWF that were found to contain child pornography out of a minimum of 145.5 million registered domains (and that’s just for five gTLDs and one country specific domain).

In fact, on a single ordinary day in May 2013, 92 times as many new domains were registered across just the six TLDs we have figures for, than were reported and found to be hosting child porn by members of the UK general public in the whole of 2012.

And finally, a report on digital trends published by Experian in April 2013 estimates that UK internet users currently carry out 1 billion internet searches every two weeks, which is of course 26 billion searches a year, so even if we assume that every single web page reported to the IWF in 2012 was found via a search engine then that would mean that the overall probability of someone accidentally finding child porn via Google or any of the other major search engines is a little over 1 in 2.6 million – although the actual probability for any given search will depend entirely on the exact keyword(s) used in the search.

Taken together these figures should lead you to a single, inexorable, conclusion…

… anyone you see demanding that Google should be doing more to block child porn hasn’t got the first fucking clue what they’re talking about.