In a first for the UK, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an anti-abuse organization, has started sharing a list of images depicting child abuse as identified through unique"hash" codes. 

Hash codes are unique tags the organization uses to give the indecent pictures of children digital fingerprints. Google, Facebook and Twitter can then use these "fingerprints" to keep tabs on flagged images so they can't be uploaded to their sites, preventing sharing and accidental discovery by users online. In doing so, they are helping IWF in curbing the activities of pedophiles and fighting for the welfare of children everywhere.

Aside from Google, Facebook and Twitter, all other internet companies offering services that involve the search, uploading and storage of images, chat services, social media functions and hosting services will also have access to the hash list.

"Our Hash List could be a game-changer and really steps up the fight against child sexual abuse images online," said Susie Hargreaves, chief executive for IWF.

Online security experts are pleased with this positive step but have made it clear that it will not be able to block content floating around on the "darknet," a restricted-access network where abusers commonly post pictures of their victims.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the introduction and adoption of the hash list shows that internet companies are taking a more active role for a cause but warned that protecting children from exploitation entails so much more. Still, a simple step that can help prevent indecent images of children from being shared is a step in the right direction.

Child exploitation on the internet has reached a nearly industrial scale so Prime Minister David Cameron said last year that organized crime experts and intelligence specialists are working together to deal with the problem of child abuse images circulating around on the darknet.

In 2013, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reviewed 22 million videos and images of suspected child abuse through its victim identification program, reporting a 5,000-percent increase from figures in 2007. In a survey, 19 percent of identified offenders were in possession of images of children younger than three years old, 39 percent had pictures of children less than six years old and 83 percent had images of children younger than 12 years old.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski | Flickr

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