Examination of Witnesses (Questions 90-99)|
4 MARCH 2008
Q90 Chairman: Good morning. This is the
second session of the Committee's inquiry into harmful content
and we are focusing particularly this morning on mobile platforms.
I would like to welcome Juliet Kramer, the Head of Content Regulation
at T-Mobile, Steven Bartholomew from 02, Trish Church from Orange
UK and Hamish MacLeod, the Chairman of the Mobile Broadband Group.
Hamish, can I start with you? You suggested in your submission
to us that you felt that, actually, you already had in place most
of the necessary building blocks for self-regulation. Can you
tell us whether you think that there are any gaps that need to
be addressed or is it just a question of utilising what is already
Mr MacLeod: It is mostly about
utilising what we already have in place. When I talked about the
building blocks, I was not talking just about mobile, I was talking
about the wider UK set-up altogether. There is perhaps a lack
of understanding as to what all the building blocks are. There
is probably a lack of coordination between the building blocks
and that could be improved a lot, but there is a lack of understanding
and a lack of agreement amongst all the parties about how we actually
go about addressing problems that pop up pretty quickly and pretty
suddenly in an efficient and well-understood process.
Q91 Chairman: Is the view shared
across the operators that actually we already have in place a
lot of what is required?
Mr Bartholomew: I think it is.
From O2's perspective, without wishing to sound complacent, we
are very proud of the code of practice we put in place four years
ago. We have always tried to predict and pre-empt problems that
come along with new media technology. It is not always possible,
but our approach has always been to try to predict and pre-empt
and the code of practice is a very good example of that. What
we are especially proud of is the fact that it was a world-first
here in the UK, so the UK is leading the way. It has been transplanted
from the UK into other European Union Member States and now many
aspects of it have been adopted by the European Commission to
form the basis of their framework on safer mobiles in the European
Union. We are very pleased with the way in which things are working
at the moment. There is more that can be done and we are happy
to continue to work with all the interested parties.
Q92 Chairman: It seems to me that
there are two distinct areas of concern. There is access to particular
websites which contain content which is potentially harmful. At
the extreme end you have that which is covered by the Internet
Watch Foundation where there is general agreement that these sites
should be blocked, but a lot of public concern is growing about
different types of websites, some helping people by advising them
how to commit suicide, others encouraging them to stop eating,
others making available extreme pornography or violence. Are you
content with the ability to block those? At the moment it appears
that it is only the very extreme end of it that is blocked, whereas
the public concern relates to a much wider area?
Mr MacLeod: May I just step back
a little bit? When the European Commission, two or three years
ago, suggested that we should set up regulatory frameworks to
regulate pretty much anything that goes on the Internet, as part
of their review of the Television Without Frontiers Directive,
we in the UK were extremely vocal in rejecting the notion that
we should have one regulate-everything-type body. What we have
created in the UK is a series of taskforces that address very
specific topics: within the Home Office we have a number of policy
groups, one looking at child sexual abuse, another looking at
violent crime reduction; in the Department of Health, we have
got them looking at anorexia and those sorts of things. I think
that is absolutely the right approach that the relevant experts
are brought under one roof to discuss the problems that come up
which are very, very tricky. You are absolutely right that there
are lots and lots of grey areas and what should come out of those
discussions and policy development is some really quite firm guidance,
even to the point where there is clear legislation as to what
is deemed to be genuinely harmful and should not be made available
and that which falls the other side of that bracket, so that commercial
companies are not put in the position that they are having to
make these editorial decisions. There needs to be wider debate
in Parliament and elsewhere about these very specific problems.
Q93 Chairman: Just looking at the
other area, we are going to come on to specific examples in due
course, but the other area where there is a lot of concern is
basically user-generated. It is the sites which provide a platform
and then the users can use those sites for what are potentially
harmful purposes: Second Life has been cited in the news very
recently; there is YouTube; and obviously the social networking
sites. As operators do you feel any responsibility to try to control
how those are used?
Mr MacLeod: We are a voice. We
are not in a position to control or to mandate what they do, but,
like everybody in this discussion, basically the UK has taken
a collaborative self-regulatory-partnership approach to regulating
things on the Internet and we are a voice and we can influence
that. We would like to see a little bit more transparency around
the editorial policies that they use to make decisions about whether
to remove content or not, and we would like to see a little bit
more transparency around the timescales in which they undertake
to remove content.
Ms Kramer: We do offer some interactive
services within our own portal so the uploading and downloading
is all done by mobile customers. In those situations we do fully
moderate both comments and pictures, which we are able to do within
Q94 Chairman: Does "fully moderate"
mean a person is actually looking at every piece of content that
Ms Kramer: Yes.
Mr Bartholomew: Our approach on
content regulation obviously begins with illegal content and you
are familiar with the work that is done around clean feed. We
then have the harmful categories of content and we are aware of
the public debate there. O2 and some of the other companies represented
here today operate their own chat rooms or user-generated services.
Our acceptable use policy states that we will not tolerate the
kind of harmful content that people are concerned about in those
spaces. If we see it, we will take it down or we will not allow
it to be posted in the first place.
Q95 Chairman: Are you monitoring
the chat rooms?
Mr Bartholomew: Yes.
Q96 Chairman: Somebody is watching
Mr Bartholomew: Yes, our chat
rooms fall into two categories. They are either put behind age-verification
controls, so you have to be over the age of 18 to get access to
the chat rooms, or the bulk of them, which are not behind age-verification
controls, are moderated. The comments are posted and then, after
the event, somebody goes through and reads those comments. If
we see things we are unhappy with, we take them down or, in incidences
where we believe there has been an attempt perhaps to groom an
under-18-year-old by a paedophile, we will take that evidence
and give it to CEOP, effectively the police. We are both a pipe
and a publisher. In our own services, we will take action. Of
course we just form a very small part of the Internet. We give
our customers the opportunity to put filters in place to control
the rest of the Internet, if they wish to do that. That gives
them a real degree of control and reassurance. At the same time
though, we do recognise that we are not an arbiter as to what
our customers can actually see. Provided the content is legal,
we accept that they have the right to go where they like on the
Internet to access that content. If people believe content is
causing harm to the public, ultimately we believe it is a role
for Parliament to define that content as illegal and then we can
work with the appropriate agencies to take action against that
Q97 Mr Evans: Specifically on the
suicide sites, do people contact you and say their youngsters
were looking at this site and they are aware that those sites
are there? Do you get these contacts?
Ms Kramer: Within our moderated
chat rooms or blogs, if the moderator sees that someone might
be considering some self-harm or suicide, it would flag up as
a warning and, as a response, they would actually send them information,
help information, saying contact the Samaritans or whatever the
appropriate link would be and the text would not be posted up;
that would all happen between the moderator and the customer.
Q98 Mr Evans: I think I am right
in saying that somebody actually did commit suicide on the web
did they not, with a webcam?
Mr Bartholomew: Yes, that is correct.
Q99 Mr Evans: And that was following
a chat room site where basically people were egging him on to
Mr Bartholomew: Yes, that is correct.
Mr MacLeod: May I just be absolutely
clear? With the mobile we do have this clear distinction between
publisher and pipe and the publisher is where we have our own
portal services which are in a mobile-only environment. There
are a few third-party partners that are content providers and
within that sphere of influence we do have a reasonable amount
of control. Outside that, there is the wider Internet where we
really are just an access pipe. When we talk about moderation
and controlling and all that sort of thing, that is happening
within our own portal.