By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Five leading online service providers will jointly build a database of
child-pornography images and develop other tools to help network
operators and law enforcement better prevent distribution of the
The companies pledged $1 million among them Tuesday to set up a
technology coalition as part of the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children. They aim to create the database by year's end,
though many details remain unsettled.
The participating companies are Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Yahoo Inc.
Microsoft Corp., EarthLink Inc. and United Online Inc., the company
behind NetZero and Juno.
Ernie Allen, the chief executive of the missing children's center,
noted that the Internet companies already possess many technologies to
help protect users from threats such as viruses and e-mail "phishing"
scams. "There's nothing more insidious and inappropriate" than child
pornography, he said.
The announcement comes as the U.S. government is pressuring service
providers to do more to help combat child pornography. Top law
enforcement officials have told Internet companies they must retain
customer records longer to help in such cases and have suggested
seeking legislation to require it.
AOL chief counsel John Ryan said the coalition was partly a response
to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' April speech identifying
increases in child-porn cases and chiding the Internet industry for
not doing more about them.
The creation of the technology coalition does not directly address the
preservation of records but could demonstrate the industry's
willingness to cooperate.
Plans call for the missing children's center to collect known
child-porn images and create a unique mathematical signature for each
one based on a common formula. Each participating company would scan
its users' images for matches.
AOL, for instance, plans to check e-mail attachments that are already
being scanned for viruses. If child porn is detected, AOL would refer
the case to the missing-children's center for further investigation,
as service providers are required to do under federal law.
Each company will set its own procedures on how it uses the database,
but executives say the partnership will let companies exchange their
best ideas -- ultimately developing tools for preventing child-porn
distribution instead of simply catching violations.
"When we pool together all our collective know-how and technical
tools, we hope to come up with something more comprehensive along the
lines of preventative" measures, said Tim Cranton, Microsoft's
director of Internet safety enforcement programs.
Ryan said that although AOL will initially focus on scanning e-mail
attachments, the goal is to ultimately develop techniques for checking
other distribution techniques as well, such as instant messaging or
Representatives will begin meeting next month to evaluate their
technologies, determining, for instance, whether cropping an image
would change its signature and hinder comparisons. Also to be
discussed are ways to ensure that customers' privacy is
protected. Authorities still would need subpoenas to get identifying
information on violators.
The companies involved said they are talking with other service
providers about joining. But companies that do not participate still
are required by law to report any suspected child-porn images, and
many already have their own techniques for monitoring and identifying
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
articles daily. And, discuss this and other topics in our forum at
For more headlines and news from Associated Press, please go to: