[By Jennifer Hartman]

A productivity boon to many, the internet has also created optimum conditions for the accelerated propagation of child sexual abuse images. Since 2002, Canada’s Cybertip.ca has received over 175,000 reports from the public concerning children being sexually exploited on the internet.  Last month, in a widely publicized awareness campaign, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection unveiled a new tool to fight against child pornography – Project Arachnid.

How Does Project Arachnid Work?
Project Arachnid is an automated web crawler that scours pages previously reported to contain child pornography and follows all links from those pages to other sites. While not the first automatic program to scour the web, Project Arachnid is unique in its use of Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology along with digital fingerprints received from institutions like the RCMP and Interpol.  Even if an image is altered in any way, the crawler is still able to detect the digital fingerprint of the illegal content, and a notice is sent to the hosting provider to request its immediate removal. Project Arachnid is also exponentially fast, scanning up to 150 web pages per second. In its first six weeks, the program processed 230 million web pages, detected over 5.1 million web pages hosting child sexual abuse material and found 40,000 different images of child sexual abuse.

A Victim-Centric Model
The first generation of children to have been exploited and had their abuse recorded or captured on camera and shared online are now adults, and a recent survey confirmed that the vast majority of them worry about being recognized years later, because the images of their abuse continue to spread across the internet.

“For the victims of these crimes … the idea of knowing that their worst moments of their lives are on the Internet for anyone to see is absolutely debilitating,” said Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. 

A collateral benefit of Project Arachnid is that it offers survivors some measure of psychological relief in knowing images are being actively sought out and removed.

Public Awareness
Educating the public about the scope of online child exploitation is one of the core tenets of the mission of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. McDonald states, “We believe that knowledge is the best antidote to societal denial that these types of things don’t happen to children.”

Nations based on their laws involving possession of child pornography. Green = legal Orange = possession of child pornography illegal Red = possession of any kind of pornography illegal [Source: International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children]
Silver Bullet?

With an estimated 50,000 new abuse images being added by offenders each year, the technology developed by those tasked with protecting our most vulnerable must continue to evolve. Project Arachnid is no panacea, but it is a significant leap forward in combatting the proliferation of online child exploitation and breaking the heinous cycle of abuse.

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)