Recent figures show that a large part of the international child pornography is on Dutch servers. Why does our country play such a major role in the spread of online child abuse?

According to the British Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) no less than half of all online child pornography is on Dutch servers. This would make our country the market leader in the field of child pornography, followed by the United States, which would distribute 12.2 percent.

The Dutch Expertise Office Online Child Abuse (EOKM), formerly the Reporting Center for Child Pornography, does not recognize this conclusion. The Netherlands ranks second in 2017 figures from 70 global hotlines, with 19 percent of all child pornography found.

This puts the Netherlands high on the list of countries where child pornography is stored on servers. In any case, this involves tens of thousands of images. In 2017, nearly 260,000 images and videos were identified at the global hotline.

The Netherlands is an important junction

According to Arda Gerkens, managing director at EOKM, that does not necessarily mean that Dutch people also often actively engage in child pornography. "In the Netherlands we have fast internet with a few large nodes. As a result, many websites with images are hosted here. These image hosters also lend themselves very well to exchanging this material."

The Netherlands is an important gathering point for the entire European internet. Since the nineties, the Amsterdam Internet Exchange has been located here, a junction that connects internet providers in the Netherlands and foreign parties. In the meantime, the Exchange has become the second largest in the world, so that much of the European internet runs through our country.

"The Booking.coms and Ubers of the world all have vital infrastructure in the Netherlands" Ruud Alaerds, branch organization Dutch Hosting Provider Association

This makes the Netherlands an attractive country for large companies to install servers. "We are an important data port for Europe," says Ruud Alaerds of the Dutch Hosting Provider Association.

Just over 200,000 links examined in 2018

"In 2018, slightly more than 200,000 links with possible child pornography were investigated," explains Wido Potters of industry organization ISPConnect Netherlands. "Of the reports that ultimately concerned child pornography, 80 percent were on an image board."

These image boards are large, international websites on which an enormous amount of images are posted every day. Although the sites were not made to share child pornography, material is sometimes uploaded on it. But because so many pictures are being posted in total, the managers are not always able to notice and erase that child pornography immediately.

It is a known problem with many large tech companies. Video service YouTube is now also struggling with keeping up with the large amount of videos being uploaded. Every minute hundreds of hours of video are posted on YouTube, sometimes with inappropriate material. The company still tries to look at it all with the help of artificial intelligence, but does not always succeed.

Because the image boards are on Dutch servers, they are seen as Dutch child pornography. If it is discovered, then the website administrators or, if necessary, the hosting providers will take action to have it removed. In the Netherlands this often happens without a court order, because hosting providers have jointly agreed on a special code of conduct. And within that code it has been agreed that child pornography will not be tolerated.

"We also received a lot of criticism last year," sighs Alaerds. "As a hosting sector you are soon in the corner where the blows fall. The chance that an American party stores this type of material on a Dutch server is much greater than that a Dutch person does."

Image boards do not consciously focus on hosting child pornography

Alaerds finds the criticism of hosting companies unfair. "You can't hold a highway manager responsible if drugs are found in a trunk."

Those image boards do not consciously focus on hosting child pornography. There are hosting providers in the Netherlands who do earn money with this. These parties are also called 'badhosters'. How often that happens exactly is not clear. TU Delft is investigating the scale on which badhosters in the Netherlands earn money.

In any case, Dutch websites that are caught hosting child pornography rarely appear. The Internet Domain Registration Netherlands (SIDN) Foundation, which is responsible for managing .nl domain names, rarely encounters problems.

"We have not had any reports in the last ten years," says SIDN director Roelof Meijer. "It is always possible that child pornography is hosted somewhere under a .nl domain and that it is deleted immediately, then we don't hear it. But for years it hadn't been that long before it ended up with us."

Fighting child pornography in the Netherlands

The large amount of child pornography in the Netherlands is nevertheless a concern for the government. Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus announced four measures to combat child pornography in the Netherlands at the end of last year:

Investigation. TU Delft is conducting a study in which reported child pornography websites are mapped and monitored. This should make clear, among other things, which hosting providers are negligent in placing child pornography and where action must be taken.

Self-regulation. Hosting providers have drawn up a code of conduct, which states, among other things, that child pornography is not tolerated. With this, they commit themselves to intervene if child pornography is found at one of their customers.

Hash database. Hosting companies share a special hash database with each other. This does not contain child pornography, but does contain special codes with which previously found child pornography can be detected. In this way the material can be traced more easily and quickly.

Rules to intervene faster. It is currently being investigated how quicker legal action can be taken if child pornography is found at, for example, badhosters, without a months-long process in which the material remains online.

The extent to which the above initiatives combat the spread of child pornography will become apparent as the EOKM publishes new annual reports on what is found online.