Bloomberg News

Verizon, Sprint, Time Warner Block Child-Porn Sites (Update3)

June 10, 2008

Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ:US), Sprint Nextel Corp. (S:US) and Time Warner Cable Inc. reached what New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo calls ``landmark agreements'' to shut down child-pornography Web sites and newsgroups nationwide.

The companies also will pay a total of $1.1 million to Cuomo and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help combat child pornography on the Internet. The agreements follow a probe lasting more than six months by Cuomo's office of sexually explicit Web images of children.

``The pervasiveness of child pornography on the Internet is horrific and it needs to be stopped,'' Cuomo said in a statement. ``We are attacking this problem by working with Internet service providers to ensure they do not play host to this immoral business.''

Time Warner (TWC:US) and Verizon account for more than 16 million high-speed Internet subscribers, or about a quarter of the total in the U.S., according to Durham, New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group Inc.

Verizon fell (VZ:US) 42 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $37.52 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has dropped 14 percent this year. Time Warner Cable declined 63 cents to $28.94, while Sprint lost 23 cents to $8.59.

Suppliers

``If you're just going to prosecute the users, you can do that every day for the rest of your life,'' Cuomo said. ``You have to get to the suppliers.''

The agreement is designed to ban access to Web sites with child pornography with the help of a registry of sites kept by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The companies will block access to newsgroups with child pornography.

Newsgroups are any online service not associated with Web sites, according to the statement. They act as online bulletin boards where users can transfer files.

``Verizon is shutting down access to those newsgroups where child pornography most often resides,'' Verizon deputy general counsel Tom Dailey said at the press conference today.

Time Warner and Sprint said they are taking similar action.

The attorney general's office identified 88 newsgroups devoted to child pornography, said Elizabeth Glazer, special counsel to Cuomo. They contained 11,390 sexually lewd photos featuring prepubescent children, in some cases children being raped and involving sexual activity with animals, according to Cuomo's statement.

Hash Value

Cuomo said investigators developed a new way to identify files with pornographic images of children. Each picture has a ``hash value'' that can be used to digitally match the same image anywhere else it resides. That allowed investigators to search through thousands of pictures and quickly identify which Internet companies were providing access to child pornography.

``This is a major step forward in the fight against child pornography,'' Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in a statement. ``Cuomo has developed a new and effective system that cuts online child porn off at the source and stops it from spreading across the Internet.''

Time Warner had about 7.9 million high-speed Internet subscribers at the end of the first quarter, while Verizon had 8.5 million, according to Leichtman Research. AT&T Inc. (T:US), the biggest U.S. phone company, had the most with 14.6 million, while Comcast Corp. took second with 14.1 million.

``The industry has always communicated a willingness to remove illegal material, but the problem, as I say, is defining what is illegal,'' said David Sobel, senior counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that promotes free speech and consumer privacy. ``There is sometimes a tendency to define objectionable material too broadly.''

Cuomo and other state attorneys general have also worked with the two largest U.S. social-networking sites, Facebook Inc. (FB:US) and MySpace, a unit of News Corp. (NWSA:US), to protect minors from sexual predators.

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at kfreifeld@bloomberg.net; Amy Thomson in New York at athomson6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Patrick Oster at poster@bloomberg.net


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Companies Mentioned

  • VZ
    (Verizon Communications Inc)
    • $47.02 USD
    • -0.03
    • -0.06%
  • S
    (Sprint Corp)
    • $4.16 USD
    • 0.08
    • 1.92%
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