Google is to give Brazilian police access to 3,261 private photo albums on social networking website Orkut, which may contain child pornography.
The move is part of a strategy announced by the head of the company in Brazil, Alexandre Hohagen, to a Senate Committee set up to investigate cases of paedophilia in the country.
During a hearing this week, Alexandre Hohagen and Felix Ximenes, director of communication for Google Brazil, claimed they are currently implementing more effective image filters that will detect and prevent the uploading of child pornography.
Ximenes told The Register the new filter is 60 per cent more efficient than the current technology. "But I can't tell how you it works, or we would just be telling how to fool it and throwing away months of development."
Orkut has more than 60 million users, most of them in Brazil. According to Sergio Suiama, the federal prosecutor for Sao Paulo, in the last two years nearly 90 per cent of the 56,000 complaints in Brazil about net-based paedophilia were linked to the website.
Ximenes said that until September 2007, all requests for information about users suspected of crimes such as racism or paedophilia were sent to Google US to be examined.
"But since then we have been dealing directly with that, providing the police with user IPs and navigation logs whenever it is requested. It's happened in more than 1,000 cases so far."
He said giving investigators personal information about suspects and access to their private albums "is not an issue", but conceded that Google has not yet received any official communication, so he can't say when this information is to be handed out.
Ximenes and Hohagen told the Senate panel that Orkut will keep users' navigation logs for six months, instead of the current 30 days.
However, he explained there was a legislative grey zone regarding child pornography in Brazil.
Every time abuse is reported within Orkut, the administrators must immediately delete the images, destroying the proofs.
"There is no Brazilian legislation ruling these situations, and according to US law, if we keep these images or forward them to anyone else we are committing a crime," says Ximenes. "We are only allowed to forward them to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, in the United States, before deleting them from our database."
He says the company is working on a collaboration between Brazilian authorities and the US organisation.
The private photo albums, considered by some as a safe haven for criminals, were introduced in November 2007, and allow users to block access to the pictures by anyone outside their direct network.
"We created this to protect the privacy of those who didn't want personal pictures to be seen by anyone," says Ximenes. "And it is being well used by the majority of the users."
Google apparently has no plans to disable this option. "Every technology can be used for good or evil. What we are doing is trying to stop and prevent bad ways of using this technology," says Ximenes. ®