There’s a new program crawling around the internet in search of child pornography.
Created by a child-protection group in Canada, Project Arachnid finds photos and videos of child sexual abuse and erases them.
Child pornography victims say that beyond the sexual abuse, knowing that images of them could be in tens of thousands of computers and phones worldwide means the pain never subsides. They talk of wondering whether someone who looks at them for more than a half-second has seen those images.
“Day in and day out, these survivors must manage the residual impact of this crime, knowing their abuse has been recorded and shared online,” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
The nonprofit center operates Project Arachnid through its Cybertip.ca tip line, where electronic providers and the public can report online sexual exploitation of children.
“By curbing the public availability of this content, it helps to address the very real fear that someone they know may come across an image of their abuse on the internet,” Arnason said.
After a year of testing, Project Arachnid became operational in January. Since then, it has reported detecting 8.3 million web pages hosting child sexual-abuse material and 58,000 images.
Once the illegal content has been identified, a message is sent to the hosting provider requesting its immediate removal. Some do so in a matter of minutes; others take days or weeks to comply.
If a provider fails to remove the content, Cybertip.ca can notify law enforcement in that jurisdiction, which could decide to investigate the provider, Arnason said.
The content Arachnid hunts down has the digital fingerprints of images and data supplied by law-enforcement agencies as widespread as Interpol to local police, as well as nonprofit groups that fight child exploitation.
David K. Frattare, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Ohio, said his agency receives 400 tips a month about child-exploitation material from electronic service providers, the general public and its own investigative work.
Those images and videos are maintained in the database of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, and the digital fingerprints are shared with Cybertip.ca.
“Project Arachnid is an amazing tool,” said John Shehan, vice president of the center’s Exploited Children Division. “It’s proactive and a way to help reduce the re-victimization. We are proud to partner with them on this victim-centric initiative.”
Eradicating child pornography is a global initiative, Frattare said. But it’s unlikely every image and video can ever be eliminated if they have been changed or if many users keep them and do not share the material.
Aranson said Project Arachnid provides survivors psychological relief.
“For the first time, we are offering victims some comfort in knowing there is a system solely designed to find and trigger the removal of this illegal content,” she said.