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Google to block 'revenge porn'

Published 20/06/2015

Google is to block 'revenge porn' pictures from search results
Google is to block 'revenge porn' pictures from search results

Internet giant Google is to block "revenge porn" images from showing up in its search results.

The American firm said it would censor "nude or sexually explicit" content shared without the subject's consent from results on its search engine if it received requests to do so.

The move comes two months after the law was changed in the UK, making it a criminal offence punishable with up to two years in prison to share sexually-explicit images without consent.

Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, wrote in a blog post that the company had heard many "troubling" stories of revenge porn being used to humiliate people and sometime end up on "sextortion" websites, where the victims are blackmailed into paying to have photos removed.

He said: "Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims - predominantly women.

"So going forward, we'll honour requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results."

He added that the company would introduce a web form for people to apply to have images removed in coming weeks

"We know this won't solve the problem of revenge porn - we aren't able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves - but we hope that honouring people's requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help," he said.

Google reportedly controls up to 70% of global search engine traffic.

The British revenge porn offence was introduced in April as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act.

Prosecutors previously had to find evidence of harassment or copyright infringement when seeking to take someone to court. However, the introduction of the revenge porn law has offered greater protection for victims.

The campaign to ban revenge porn gathered pace - and cross-party political support - following high-profile leaks of intimate celebrity images last year, making victims of pop stars Rihanna and Tulisa Contostavlos.

But non-celebrities are also increasingly victims of the crime, often carried out by by ex-partners using intimate photos taken during their relationship using smartphones.

Last year, the EU forced Google into changing its privacy policy in Europe following the "right to be forgotten" ruling, with the internet giant having to create a submissions page for users who wanted to request links to old stories be removed from search results about them.

Dr Ann Olivarius, senior partner at London-based law firm McAllister Olivarius, said: "Women generally can't remove revenge porn images themselves because they rarely own the copyright.

"In agreeing to remove revenge porn images from search results Google has shown that organisations can take a stand against the abuse of women without being forced to by law.

"While the problems of the dark web still remain, Google's decision is also important because it makes life harder for the websites that earn money from these harmful images of women."

Chrissy Chambers, a YouTube star who is bringing a civil claim against a former partner for posting so-called revenge porn on the internet, said: "This news is life-changing. Finally, I can begin combatting the harsh reality I've faced daily for two years - that my sexual assault and the revenge porn videos of it live online with no remedy to remove them from search results. This change is going help countless victims and will save lives."

Ms Chambers, 24, who has a combined following of 435,000 subscribers and 85 million views for the BriaAndChrissy channel with her partner Bria Kam, is seeking damages against her British ex-boyfriend after accusing him of posting explicit footage of her after they split up.

Ms Chambers, who lives in Los Angeles in the United States, said footage from six years ago was made into videos and shared on a slew of pornographic websites, clearly identifying her as the participant.

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