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Silicon Valley tech giants step up war on child porn

Arthur Debat | Moment Mobile | Getty Images

Silicon Valley's giants have intensified efforts to fight pedophiles with technology that can automatically block child pornography images.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have started using a database created by British charity the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which uses a so-called "hash" to identify indecent images of kids.

Each individual image has a digital fingerprint -- or "hash" -- created by an algorithm. When that image or a copy of the image is shared on one of the technology giant's sites, it will be automatically blocked and can be removed.

Hashes are created from images that have been assessed by IWF's analysts. This image may have come from a public report, a website reporting the image, or an picture found by an analyst or the U.K. government's own database of blacklisted images.

In 2014, the IWF said its analysts found 31,266 child sexual abuse web links, an increase of 137 percent compared to 2013.

"The IWF Hash List could be a game-changer and really steps up the fight against child sexual abuse images online," the charity's CEO Susie Hargreaves, said in a statement.

"It means victims' images can be identified and removed more quickly, and we can prevent known child sexual abuse images from being uploaded to the internet in the first place."

While just the five initial companies have access to the "hash list" or database of images, the IWF said firms offering services such as chat, social media or image storing could make use of the technology.

The IWF said that as more images are discovered, the database will grow and increase the chance of stamping out indecent images of children.

But one potential drawback is the inability for this technology to be used on the so-called "dark net" - a way for pedophiles to share files and email in an anonymous way on the internet.

The lastest development continues the U.K.-led effort to crackdown on pedophiles. Last year, a new unit between Britain's GCHQ spy agency and National Crime Agency (NCA) was formed to tackle child abusers operating on the "dark net".