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May 23, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 1:22pm

Cleaning up the Internet, one criminal at a time

Duncan MacRae spoke with its Netlcean founder, Pelle Garå, to find out how its working with law enforcement agencies and businesses to tackle child pornography, terrorism, drug dealing and gangland crimes.

By Duncan Macrae

NetClean is a company that provides intelligence solutions to detect, block and analyse digital media in an effort to create a safer society. Duncan MacRae spoke with its founder, Pelle Garå, to find out how its working with law enforcement agencies to tackle child pornography, terrorism, drug dealing and gangland crimes.

What role does Netlcean play in efforts to prevent child pornography?

Netclean is a company that works with illegal digital media. Digital media for us is images and videos. That’s our speciality.

It all began because wanted to crack the case of sexual abuse of children. Ten years ago people said ‘the Internet is too big, the problem is too large, it can’t be done and you guys aren’t good enough’. They gave us all these reasons and this is probably how all entrepreneurs start – you want to prove them wrong. It could be your father , or maybe you’re trying to impress a girl. In our case, it was probably both of these reasons.

Today, 10 years later, I think we’re very good at what we do. Up until a year ago we just focused on sexual crimes against children but then a lot of law enforcement agencies said ‘I talked to the guys who deal with terrorism or missing people or drug lords and they’re really impressed with what you do’.

They’re right. Sexual crimes against children is one use case but, of course, our solution Analyze DI can help with anything that has to do with images or media.

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The problem today with media, especially images and video, is that there’s too much of it. People call it big data. You need to have intelligence in big data and that’s basically what we do.

You have an end user. For example, a police officer in Bournemouth and he has a child abuse case. He has 100,000 pictures that he has to look through. Up until now, he has a folder on this computer with all the photos and he has to look through them. But now we have a tool that helps him go through all of the material

What exactly can Netclean offer?

If people look at grown up girls who want to be naked on the Internet then that’s not my problem. You could be religious or say this is immoral but, frankly, that’s not my problem.

I deal with stuff that’s illegal. There is no grey scale for me. If it’s illegal I will help to stop it. I’m a tech guy. I don’t make the decision about whether something is child pornography or not. The police officers have to do that.

I have a repository of all the pictures that have gone through illegal systems in a democratic world. I can take one of those pictures, extract the information, run it through our algorithm and hash that value. Now I have a database of hash values with absolutely no false positives. I can take that database together with the software, and I can take the information we have and offer that to companies – providing something like a firewall for viruses. Instead of catching viruses, it can catch illegal pictures. If you have them on your computers or system we can notify you. I can sell this but we give back to communities by offering the DI to law enforcement agencies for free.

Can we ever really keep illegal content off the Internet?

Absolutely. I don’t see a reason why we can’t get rid of it. It’s not a technology problem anymore. It’s a policy problem or a politician problem. It’s not about money because earlier I sold our solution to a company that had asked how much it was. I said: "If the money is the only concern, we’ll come to some sort of an agreement." Whenever I’ve told companies that they’ve they have always bought it. It’s not much money.

I think people feel that the subject of sexual crimes against children is so hideous that they don’t want to deal with it. I think that’s the biggest problem.

Companies always talk about corporate social responsibility. It’s always a lot of fancy words. People can choose to ensure there is no child pornography on their corporate network. Install our solution. If just one illegal photo appears on one of your computers you know about it. You can deal with it and move on, and the CEO can genuinely say that they are taking social responsibility.

If one company does it why are all companies not doing it? They tell us they’ll think about it. What is it to think about? Is it the price? They don’t even ask me the price. They’re lying and hiding from the problem.

What kind of challenges does the Deep Web create?

Of course it creates a problem. You don’t know who’s responsible for the Internet. Nobody takes responsibility. For example, the Americans are spying on everybody but they’re not taking responsibility for the Internet and Tor creates another level of difficulty. If you have Netclean protection on a laptop, though, as soon as the user extracts the information and looks at it people will know.

There are 33 councils in the Greater London area. As soon as someone looks at an image or video that the police have said is child pornography people will know about it. People can say "but the content is already out there. What harm does it do?" But one out of every three people who look at that kind of content will go on to molest a child.

If you were at an office party and you got really drunk and ran around naked and did stupid things while people took photos, on Monday morning you’d probably feel really bad, resign and move to another city.
The children in these images have not even consented to be in them and that’s going to be with them for the rest of their lives. It’s a crime every time someone looks at them. If you can get the guys who are looking at the pictures you are going to get the guys who are molesting children.


Why do you think people aren’t taking this issue seriously enough?

I think all problems connected to 40-year-old white guys are top of the agenda and everything else is dealt with later on, whether it’s a female problem or child problem.

Everyone will say that children are our future but this is not happening to politicians – it’s happening to kids. If this was prostate cancer it would have tonnes of people throwing money at it. Why are we giving this away for free to law enforcement agencies? Because they don’t have any funds.

Are people taking this seriously? The people working to deal with the problem are taking it extremely seriously but do we need more people throwing money at it? Yes, of course.

How does the media help or hinder efforts of Netclean and the police?

The media only ever look for a weird angle. There was a recent case in which one guy got convicted of possessing child pornography and out of the hundreds of thousands of images he had, 10 of them were animated. The articles in all of the newspapers were just making fun of it saying you can draw a picture of a 12-year-old girl naked and it’s a criminal offence. They are missing the point.

Only about 10% of my friends know what I do for a living. I never really talk about this at parties because it’s a downer. But they have usually seen CSI on TV so I can explain it to them what we’re trying to do in that context. In reality, we don’t use big interactive touchscreens like in the TV show but what we produce is the best you can get. There’s not a big police agency in the world that doesn’t use our stuff.



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