Examination of Witnesses (Questions 46-59)|
OBE, QPM AND MS
26 FEBRUARY 2008
Chairman: Can I welcome our next set
of witnesses, Matt Lambert from Microsoft, Peter Robbins, the
Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, and Heather
Rabbatts, the Chair of the Media Literacy Taskforce.
Q46 Mr Sanders: This is to Matt Lambert.
Your submission outlines the range of Microsoft tools that parents
can use to filter out harmful content. Other evidence says that
these tools are not widely used. Is this the case?
Mr Lambert: Yes, it is the case
that they are not very widely used. It is disappointing, and that
is one of the reasons why we have said in our submission to you
and also to Byron that we very much feel that public education,
driven by government, with the support of companies, appropriate
NGOs and other experts, including perhaps to some extent the police
and law enforcement, should actually get out to schools, to teachers
and to parents and drive awareness, either with public information
campaigning or, I think more appropriately, through schools and
other places where you can talk to young people, to parents, to
responsible adults who have responsibility for children and tell
them that these tools are availablenot just on Microsoft,
of course; there are generic filtering tools available in other
operating systems and of course by many other competitors to Microsoft
in the internet security safety area offering tools which work
very well with Microsoft Windows and other operating systems.
I think there is a low take-up but there is not, interestingly,
low awareness that tools are available. Parents are not acting
Q47 Mr Sanders: What is Microsoft
doing to try and ensure that there is a common and consistent
system of parental controls among all software and games providers
Mr Lambert: We work with industry
associations, including, particularly in the gaming area, which
I think is perhaps where you are thinking there, to encourage
consistent advice about games rating with the PEGI system, the
Pan-European Games Information system. We work with other associations
on a cross-industry basis. For ourselves, what we try to do, I
think, the onus on us is to recognise that parents are disadvantaged.
Some survey work we did showed that 90% of children reckoned they
knew much more about this than their parents and that is the case
with most people I know. Certainly it is my situation, even though
I have worked in the industry for 20 years. My kids out-manoeuvre
me on Xbox quite frequently. It is difficult but we have to make
these systems as simple as possible so that when they open up
the Xbox for the first time or when there is Vista you will find
one of the things you can get here is parental guidance about
the family safety settings. We have a unique responsibility that
we recognise because typically Internet Explorer is a gateway
for many people to the internet in the first place through Windows
Vista, a lot of people using our online services with Windows
Live MSN and, of course, Xbox, which is increasingly a live experience
online for many people as well, including young people. We try
to have a commonality of simple, straightforward controls which
parents and responsible adults can actually understand and set,
and they are password-protected so that they can set a rating
level available for children or they can say "This is the
type of content I want my children to see. Here are some specific
websites I want to block. I only want them to play online for
a certain amount of time and I do not want them to use Instant
Messaging at all," if you want to take a very restrictive
approach. All of that is available. It is actually quite simple
Q48 Mr Sanders: We heard earlier
that some parents confuse a classification with a skill rating.
Mr Lambert: Yes.
Q49 Mr Sanders: You may laugh but
actually it is quite important.
Mr Lambert: I am not laughing.
It is not amusing.
Q50 Mr Sanders: It is not you. I
was criticising my Chairman, which is probably not wise of me!
Would it not make sense to actually have a skill rating level
alongside a classification so that you could remove that ambiguity?
Mr Lambert: You are aware, I am
sure, that there are two types of rating.
Q51 Mr Sanders: No, I am not.
Mr Lambert: Let me explain then.
In the United Kingdom we basically operate two systems in parallel.
One is the PEGI rating, which I have already referred to, which
has rating from three-plus upwards. We also have the BBFC, British
Board of Film Classification, which takes the same approach that
it takes to films, which I think most people are aware of, X-rated
films, PG, and so forth. It takes the same approach to games.
Very typically, that rating comes in at 15, and primarily what
they are doing is saying a game is actually inappropriate under
British law, harmful content and so forth, is unacceptable, therefore
this game is not acceptable and it is not released in the United
Kingdom, so they have that role but also the ratings often apply
so you can see if it is an 18-plus, 15-plus and so forth. So the
two ratings run parallel. To come back to your original question,
the PEGI rating is also age-appropriate. There is a game I was
playing the other day with my eight-year-old, appropriate for
three-plus. It does not help that I am 44 and I had not a clue
what I was doing, but that is another story. It is telling you
broadly that this is a game that is appropriate for this age but
it will also tell you clearly that only 15-plus is advisable.
I think the problem here, and I think it was referred to in the
last session, is that you have a situation where the games ratings
are not taken as seriously, typically, as the cinema film ratings,
and I cannot explain that phenomenon. It is not the case the parents
are not aware of these ratings. We have done a bit of research.
We surveyed 4,000 people across Europe, including a thousand people,
broadly speaking, in the United Kingdom, a statistically relevant
survey, and we found that 79% of parents were aware of an age-rated
video rating system. They understand that it is there but they
do not always operate it. I think possibly that is because, typically,
parents did not play games like this when they were children;
a lot of older parents certainly did not have them when they were
children. This is a world that they do not fully understand. Microsoft
does not wish to preach to parents; it basically wants to make
the tools available and publicise them. Parents must decide, I
think, the appropriate rating for content and games and so forth
for their children, and each case can be different up to a point.
The Government has to say at a point certain types of material
are unacceptable or unacceptable for certain age groups, so there
is a role for government but I do think we need to educate parents
and say that there is stuff which is inappropriate, there is a
good reason why it is rated and they need to take a bit more interest
in this. That, I think, is actually for governments. That is why
I say Microsoft does not preach to parents. That is for politicians
and governments to decide but we stand willing and ready. I think
you have heard mention a couple of times in the previous session
that we are very active in terms of training programmes, getting
out to schools and so forth, talking to them about these issues.
A couple of years ago we went out to 100 schools in this country.
I think we saw 30,000 children aged 14 and above. I myself trained
about 900 kids in terms of giving them advice. We need to do this
as a rolling programme. That is the advice we have given to Byron.
It applies to games rating and we stand ready and willing to work
with the rest of the industry, government and anyone else who
wants to get involved to get out to schools, to talk to parents,
to talk to teachers, to talk to young people, tell them the dangers.
We must put the thing in context though. The internet is a good
thing. We think gaming is a good thing. It should be fun and it
should be part of pleasurable activity but there have to be limits
and boundaries, and we think it is up to parents, teachers and
responsible adults to decide where they lie.
Q52 Chairman: One quick last question
to Microsoft. You heard in the previous session the suggestion
that the default setting for a new computer should be set at the
maximum level of security. Is that something you would be willing
Mr Lambert: No, it is not. I know
John Carr very well. We have a huge amount of respect for him
and we have worked with him on many things, including at the moment
looking at age verification and how we could do more around that
area, but I do not agree with him about this issue. It is simply
this. We set our ratings for search, for example, at the moderate
rating, so that blocks on Windows Live search most sexual content.
You put in some obvious word, looking for sexual content, and
you will get a warning that this content is inappropriate. As
I have already said, we also have the tools which allow parents
to take a more interventionary approach and block entirely, and
clearly, you can just shut off the internet. Where does the default
lie? This is the question I asked John Carr and the charities,
many of whom we work with as partners. Are you saying we stop
the internet and when you buy a computer you have to switch it
on, or are we saying that we set it at a very high level which
blocks most content, which is pretty much close to blocking the
internet altogether, in my view? How long would people accept
that? First of all, they would blame us. We would have to explain
to our customers "You have to do this to turn it back on."
John would say, "I know, but that is an acceptable level
of pain," but the reality is that consumers will complain,
they will go elsewhere, they will simply use other technology
which neither you nor I can control and, in my view, the net result
of this is you will do more damage and there will be more open
access to inappropriate content. The right way, I believe, is
to work in a self-regulatory regime but in a co-operative system,
such as I have proposed to Byron and I have mentioned here, that
we work, not just Microsoft about as a cross-industry thing, which
I know the industry, ISPA and others are very willing to take
part in, to raise awareness and make these tools as simple as
possible. We will take any amount of advice from MPs here and
any customers. If you do not think the thing is simple and easy
to understand, and you do not find it readily available, and clearly
available, we are listening, and we will change it in the next
system and we will backdate it where we can. You can download
OneCare and backdate it on previous systems if you do not have
Windows Vista. We try to make it simple and straightforward but
blocking wholesale and setting at a high level is equivalent to
blocking and Britain would be looked at as being in the Dark Ages
if you set that kind of legal restriction, in my view.
Q53 Chairman: Can I turn to Peter
Robbins. The IWF produces a list of banned websites and ISPs block
access to them. It was suggested to us that actually it was comparatively
simple to get around these blocks. Would you accept that?
Mr Robbins: The decision that
the internet service providers, mobile operators, search providers
took to voluntarily take our list was based on the fact that they
were trying to protect consumers from stumbling across these types
of websites and these types of images. It is true to say though
that there are ways of getting round it and therefore criminals
who want to download indecent images of children will indeed find
their way round these types of systems, but the thrust of the
initiative was about protecting consumers as a whole from stumbling
across these types of websites.
Q54 Chairman: So you would have to
be pretty sophisticated to be able to overcome the block?
Mr Robbins: You do have to have
some knowledge about other means of getting round it, yes.
Q55 Chairman: The IWF is an industry-led
body, self-regulatory. Do all the ISPs accept your banned list?
Mr Robbins: As John said earlier,
95% of domestic broadband consumers currently access the internet
through six, seven or eight companies, all of whom take our list.
There is a tail, equivalent to roughly 100 companies, that are
the smaller ISPs that do not currently take the list but, to be
fair, there is some confusion about how the smaller companies
may be protected by virtue of activities upstream by some of the
bigger providers. It is not clear to the downstream providers
whether or not they are covered from the upstream providers. The
way in which the industry has agreed to tackle this is to invoke
a self-regulatory verification system, which we are developing
with the industry, whereby they will be given data by us to enable
them to check their services to see whether or not you can break
through the service and, if you can, then of course there is a
break in the system. So a small ISP will be able to take some
data from us, check it to see whether not it breaks through the
system and, if it did, they would know they are not covered upstream
and therefore they have some responsibility to try and deal with
a blocking mechanism for that.
Paul Farrelly: I am sorry, Chairman.
I did not understand a word of that.
Q56 Chairman: Perhaps you could clarify.
At the same time, are there any small ISPs that actually take
a view that becauseI do not knowthey believe in
freedom of expression on the internet, they deliberately do not
wish to block access to sites?
Mr Robbins: I do not think that
would be the case that any company would not take the list in
relation to child sexual abuse websites but I think there are
issues for them in relation to cost and effectiveness, but cost
I think is an issue that they have with government over this,
Chairman: Perhaps you could just clarify
the upstream and downstream, for me as well actually.
Q57 Paul Farrelly: There are 100
people who do not abide by your list and seven or eight that do.
To what extent do the "wicked" people go to the 100
and be able to access the sites?
Mr Robbins: Yes, that is a good
question. We do not know, of course, how many individuals access
the internet through those types of ISPs that may not be taking
our list or blocking. Let me just give you an example. If BT is
blocking, which it is, and you buy your internet service connectivity
as a reseller or virtual ISP who resells connectivity within a
village, within an area, then if you know that you are on the
BT network, you know that you are covered by virtue of their decision
to block using our list upstream. However, the way in which the
internet access gets sold and resold, it is not always clear to
two or three virtual ISPs downstream of BT that they actually
are on the BT network. That is not easy to determine at the moment
and that is something that we are working through now with those
small ISPs to try and establish where they may be covered upstream.
Q58 Paul Farrelly: Are the police,
for instance, quite relaxed that these smaller ISPs exist so that
all the rotten apples end up in the smaller barrels and they can
watch it more closely?
Mr Robbins: No, I do not think
Q59 Janet Anderson: If we could just
stay on the subject of self-regulation and potentially harmful
content that is not illegal, do you think self-regulation works
or do you think there should be more formal regulation or legislation?
Mr Robbins: The situation with
the three areas of remit that we deal with, if we just dealt with
criminally obscene adult content, which is within our remit, it
is very rare for us to find any of that type of content hosted
in the UK. Recently there was an interpretation of the Obscene
Publications Act which meant that, if there was adult pornography
of an explicit nature on a landing page, which is the front page
of a website, which was hosted in the UK, that a child under the
age of 18 could see, therefore it may fail the Obscene Publications
Act definition of "deprave and corrupt", we could issue
a notice to that service provider to take that website down. That
was an interpretation of the law which has only been made in the
last couple of years and, indeed, since we started issuing notices
in regard to that, the numbers of adult pornography websites with
explicit content have now reduced significantly and we have not
had to issue any notices in the last six or seven months. So as
the industry takes its notices from us, it takes content down,
the word gets around and the volume goes down but, of course,
what has happened is that the majority of porn sites are actually
now hosted outside of the UK and, in terms of adult pornography,
we do not have any relationships with any other government or
any other hotline in the world to put them on notice about these
types of websites with explicit content for them to do something
about it or to take them down, because they could be legal outside
the UK. If you take Holland, there are plenty of porn sites in
Holland which are legal which in the UK would not be allowed.
So there are issues in relation to where the content moves to,
where it is hosted, and then obviously what the UK can do about
that. Incitement to racial hatred is also within our remit but,
again, it is very rare for us to find any of that type of content
in the UK, and if there was, we would issue a notice and it would
be taken down immediately, and the police would be allowed, obviously,
to get on with their investigation with regard to that. Of course,
the complaints that we get, we trace them to other parts of the
world where they have different laws and different views about
what incitement to racial hatred might be, therefore they will
not take any action to take them down. The question then is, how
do you regulate that type of content in the UK if people can obviously
access websites around the world? I would say that the majority
of those websites are relatively static. The porn sites and the
race sites, or the interpretation of what are race sites, are
static. They generally are within filter systems that you can
buy as commercial products, so providing you tick the box on your
computer and make sure that you do not want to see porn or race
or whatever, they are usually quite effective. The reason why
we provide a list to ISPs of child sexual abuse websites, and
the difference between that and other types of content, is that
these sites move all the time. They are taken down by authorities
around the world, there is co-operation around the world and,
of course, we have networks and hotlines around the world to tackle
that but, because of the pressure they get, they keep moving all
the time. Consequently, filtering systems cannot keep up with
the pace at which they move as much as they can when they are
general porn sites and race sites. Consequently, ISPs take the
list from us, they block it at a network level, and they block
it because it does not give anybody a choice about what they can
and cannot see. That is not the same with pornography, because
you and I can see it; it is not an offence for us to view it;
it is not an offence for you and I to look at race sites, wherever
they are hosted in the world. The Government are currently proposing
some legislation in relation to extreme pornography where they
are minded to make it an offence to possess certain types of extreme
pornography. The next step in regulating, in criminalising access
to extreme pornography, is that you have to stop people from seeing
it and therefore making it an offence to possess. The Obscene
Publications Act does not currently make it an offence to possess
it unless you are going to distribute it; the same with race,
unless you are going to distribute it or incite people to do things.
So government are having to think about how you can control the
content and then make it an offence to see it.