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Microsoft's Bing search engine served up child porn, report says

by Millie Pettiford (2020-07-24)

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Microsoft's Bing search engine surfaced child pornography and suggested additional search terms for illegal images, according to researchers at an online safety startup.

Researchers at AntiToxin Technologies found that Bing brought up photos of nude children and would recommend related search terms to users looking for child pornography. The search engine also suggested similar images when the photos were clicked on. AntiToxin was commissioned by TechCrunch to investigate the matter, after the publication received an anonymous tip about child porn on Bing. 

"Speaking as a parent, we should expect responsible technology companies to double-, and even triple-down to ensure they are not adding toxicity to an already perilous online environment for children," AntiToxin CEO Zohar Levkovitz said in a statement.

Microsoft didn't immediately provide a comment about the report, but the software company told TechCrunch it had fixed the issue and said it's working on blocking other problematic searches. AntiToxin told TechCrunch some of the search terms were still bringing up child porn.

Microsoft's corporate vice president of Bing and AI products, Jordi Ribas, told TechCrunch the results surfaced by the researchers violate the site's rules and that the company is committed to preventing such mishaps.

"We acted immediately to remove them, but we also want to prevent any other similar violations in the future," Ribas said. "We're focused on learning from this so we can make any other improvements needed."

Bing's SafeSearch feature, which filters out adult images and videos, was disabled during AntiToxin's searches. AntiToxin conducted its inquiry between Dec. 30 and Jan. 7.

The online safety startup also conducted similar searches on Google but didn't find the same illegal images. 

Other tech platforms, including WhatsApp, have been grappling with sex child porn. Two Israeli online safety groups, Netivei Reshet and Screensaverz, concluded it was easy to find WhatsApp groups in which people shared images and videos of children being sexually abused. WhatsApp said it had a "a zero-tolerance policy around child sexual abuse" and noted the company banned roughly 130,000 accounts in 10 days. 

In November, Tumblr's app was temporarily removed from Apple's App store after child porn got past the site's filters.

First published Jan. 10, 2:38 p.m. PT
Update, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m.: Adds statement from AntiToxin CEO and findings about Google. 

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