Sprint, Time Warner, Verizon Told to Crack Down

Dennis Faas's picture

Three of the major US Internet providers have agreed to cut off their subscribers from accessing explicit images of children on the Internet.

Sprint, Time Warner and Verizon have all made a voluntary agreement with the New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo. They'll also pay a combined $1.125 million to fund efforts to crack down on the problem.

While some reports have said they'll be blocking websites, the main target is actually Usenet newsgroups. These are discussion forums which predate the World Wide Web itself. Once the web became popular, they lost a lot of their appeal for discussion (though they've lived on through sites such as Google News which allow people to use newsgroups without dedicated software).

But newsgroups remain popular as a way of distributing files which either break copyright laws or contain obscene material. That's because there's no central website and no specific 'owner' company to target.

The three firms are dealing with the requests in different ways. Time Warner is dropping newsgroup access altogether, Sprint is ditching everything in the 'alt' category, while Verizon is still deciding. (Source: cnet.com)

The firms will also have to block any sites listed on a register by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

New York law officials pushed the Internet providers into the deal after an undercover investigation in which they posed as customers and complained about the finding of explicit images of children, to no effect.

It's a change in strategy for officials after they concluded targeting the people who actually make and distribute the porn was often ineffective because they were based overseas.

Part of the money from the Internet providers will go towards a scheme to build up a library of more than 11,000 popular images. These will be electronically analysed so that computers can automatically search the web to find copies of them, even if they've been cropped or resized. (Source: dmwmedia.com)

The blocking of the newsgroups does seem a pretty blunt way to deal with the problem: there are literally tens of thousands of groups, most of them entirely legitimate and with no pornographic material. But it may be the easiest way for the firms to deal with the problem while staving off the threat of tighter legislation.

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