Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
4 MARCH 2008
Q100 Mr Evans: That is why I wanted
to take it a little bit wider than the content that you are responsible
for. Clearly you do act as a wall, as you might say: if people
put graffiti on your wall, you are saying "What responsibility
is it of ours?". Is that what you are saying?
Mr MacLeod: Yes and in that situation
of course there is a responsibility. Where we are just providing
the pipe to the outside Internet, then our position to influence
what goes on is very, very much reduced of course.
Q101 Mr Evans: You say "much
reduced". If you are acting as a pipe and people say these
sites are there assisting people to commit suicide and we know
parents are incredibly worried about the access to information
like that for young peopleand it has hit the news widely
recently in certain parts of the UKtell us what power you
have to be able to stop those sites, even though you are the provider
of the pipe? Do you have any power whatsoever or none?
Mr MacLeod: We are like you; we
have as much influence as anybody in this situation, which is
not a lot when you are dealing with these very grey areas. That
is why, coming back to what was said earlier, when the Department
of Health is discussing their suicide strategy and all that sort
of thing with its stakeholder group, it is very, very important
that they come up with proper legislation as to what is acceptable
behaviour and what is truly harmful and what is not.
Q102 Mr Evans: Hold on. What you
are saying is that while we are in limbo-land, until you get clear
direction from the Government on any particular issue, you do
not believe there is any personal responsibility on behalf of
any of the carriers; that when they are carrying information about
committing suicide, they have no responsibilities whatsoever,
it is up to Government to adjudicate.
Mr Bartholomew: There are two
ways we can protect our customers. One way is taking down or blocking
access to that category of content; that is one option that is
open to us. The other way in which we can protect our customers
is to provide them with filters that screen out that content.
We have parental controls for our Internet browser. If they are
activated, the child will not be able to get to suicide sites,
so they are protected. We do not, however, go out and take down
those sites, if they are out there in the Internet. We do not
see that as our role.
Q103 Mr Evans: Are you able to block
Mr Bartholomew: With our filters.
Q104 Mr Evans: No, could you block
anybody accessing them?
Mr Bartholomew: Theoretically.
Q105 Mr Evans: But you have made
a decision that you are not going to do that. A lot of parents
out there will be a little bit shocked to think that you would
allow the information to get through irrespective of filters;
a lot of kids know how to get round filters, they know about the
filters and the parents do not. They will be a bit shocked that
you have the ability to stop that information that would assist
people, particularly young people, to commit suicide, but you
are not prepared to do that.
Mr Bartholomew: The decision we
are taking is to not allow that kind of content in chat rooms
or services that we host; we do not allow any kind of suicide-related
material in the services we operate. We then give our customers
the ability to block access to that kind of material. If the filters
are activated, they simply cannot get to those sites. The way
our filter works is with what we call a "white list".
It is a list of URLs that we believe are suitable for children
and young people. If that list is put in place, they will not
be able to get to the suicide sites. We have taken action. What
we would say is that, if content is legal but unpalatable, it
is the role of Parliament ultimately to change the definition
and then that gives us the legal certainty and the framework to
take action against that kind of content. In the meantime, we
give protection to customers through very effective filters.
Q106 Mr Evans: Are you saying then
that you are afraid of legal action, if you blocked a site coming
in and it was not against the law here? Do you not have a right,
like we see outside pubs, to refuse admission?
Mr Bartholomew: Yes, and we exercise
Q107 Mr Evans: Do you have the right
to refuse anybody using your pipe to broadcast information like
Mr Bartholomew: Yes. We exercise
that right day in, day out, in the very small piece of the Internet
that we own. In our services, our chat rooms, we say "You
cannot say that, we are taking it down" or "We are going
to remove your right to be a member of our chat room because we
are unhappy with your behaviour". We exercise that right
vigorously. We also respect the right of citizens to go where
they like elsewhere on the Internet, in the spaces we do not own,
to access material that is legal but that many people may be unhappy
with. That is the kind of balance we have to take for freedom
of expression versus censorship or protecting customers. We have
to tread a very delicate fine line and we believe that exercising
the right on our own services, giving customers the filters, is
the best way to approach the problem.
Q108 Philip Davies: Could you just
explain a bit more about what you include or do not include in
these filters? The filter obviously stops people getting access
to certain sites, so what have you decided is inappropriate. One
of the things I struggle to understand is exactly what constitutes
harmful content. What is harmful to one person may not be harmful
to others, so I find harmful content a difficult thing to define,
but obviously you have through your filters. How have you determined
what is harmful and what is not through these filters?
Mr MacLeod: The basic framework
we put in place is we have appointed an independent mobile classification
body to create a framework that decides what is inappropriate
for minors and what is not. That applies to the commercial content,
so that is what we provide in our portals and the content we apply
with our immediate partners. That framework has to be followed
by the mobile operators and their partners. For the filtering
side of life, which is access to the wider Internet, we have used
that guideline as the basic framework to make that decision.
Q109 Philip Davies: But these things
must be dependent on age, for example. What would be inappropriate
for somebody at five may be completely different to what is inappropriate
for somebody at 15. How does it work in terms of people's different
ages and what is inappropriate for different people?
Mr MacLeod: The answer is that
when we set this up four years ago, we took a very firm decision
that clear public policy concern was around the 18+ divide. Really
the only practical age at which you can verify people's age at
a distance, when they are not present, is at 18, so that is why
we have chosen that cut-off point. In the three or four years
that we have been operating it, judging by all the feedback and
the level of complaints that we have received, which is very,
very low, we think that policy has been effective and is meeting
the needs of our customers.
Q110 Mr Hall: The industry says that
the way forward is self-regulation and the industry prides itself
on self-regulation, but we have heard this morning that you actually
want government intervention as well because you want the government
to state what is illegal and then you will police it. Is that
Mr MacLeod: The way we have characterised
this really is about partnerships. If you take the model of the
Home Office taskforce, this has not been pure self-regulation;
self-regulation has been an element of the solution. Within the
Home Office taskforce, you have various groups of stakeholders:
you have the NGOs; you have the Government represented; and you
have industry essentially. Through the three or four years that
the taskforce has been really doing things, each partner has brought
things to the table. The industry has brought self-regulatory
mechanisms, the Government have made changes to the law: they
introduced the offence of grooming within the Sexual Offences
Act, which has been extremely important, and we have sat within
the taskforce, agreed the appropriate messages that children should
be learning and then, through the educational channels, these
messages have been delivered in accordance with what the taskforce
agreed. I was very pleased when one of my children came back from
school yesterday and said "We had Internet lessons yesterday
and this is what they taught us" and he hammered out the
three or four key messages that we had sat three or four years
ago and decided within the taskforce. So self-regulation is an
element of the solution, but there is a little bit more to it
Q111 Mr Hall: You have given the
example that the Government have actually said that grooming on
the Internet now is illegal. What else did they say is illegal?
What else? You are asking them to define what is illegal, so what
else should come into that category?
Mr MacLeod: We have alluded to
one of them already. Another area is around the glorification
of violence and the Home Office has just published its strategy
on tackling violence and violent crime and such like. Within that
strategy there is an element which is to do with publishing on
the Internet and we will be thoroughly engaged in that discussion
as they go about implementing their strategy. What comes out of
it will, I suspect, be a mixture of responses.
Q112 Mr Hall: The Mobile Operators'
Code for content is held up as a very good example of self-regulation.
There is some concern that not all mobile operators promote this
particular code of conduct. What can be done to improve that?
Mr Bartholomew: There are five
main operators in the UK and all five of those have signed up
to the code.
Q113 Mr Hall: It is not a question
of them being signed up; it is a question of them actually promoting
Ms Kramer: The way the code works
is that we put in place access controls which are on by default
for all our customers. When you buy a phone, you are protected,
which is probably the most important part of the code. In terms
of promoting the code, customers probably need more information
when they are trying to lift that control or maybe when they call
customer services, rather than right at the beginning when they
are going to a shop to buy their phone. Is it really about the
solutions that we have in place rather than promoting the code
Q114 Mr Hall: O2 and Orange are both
mobile operators and Internet Service Providers. Do you take more
care to protect people from harmful content through the mobile
than you do on accessing it through the computers at home?
Ms Church: It is true to say we
do take more care on the mobile. We implemented the code four
years ago and we actually install the parental controls by default
on our pay-as-you-go mobiles. It can be applied to pay-monthly
mobiles but people who are taking out a contract and buying pay-monthly
mobiles actually have to go through a credit check to be able
to sign up for the contract and therefore those people are already
known to be over 18. However, on the fixed Internet, we actually
offer a free parental control solution to every accessed customer.
We promote this both at the point of sign-up and in follow-up
welcome emails and the parent is therefore empowered to protect
their children by downloading this product and installing it on
Q115 Mr Hall: Mr Evans did make the
point that young people probably understand how these things work
far better than their parents. Is there anything else that the
industry could be doing to improve the kind of protection that
a lot of us would like to see?
Ms Church: We believe it is important
to educate the parents so that they know what the risks are that
their children potentially face on the Internet and we have various
measures in place to attempt to educate those parents. We are
working in partnership with the DCSF cyber-bullying taskforce
and the Home Office taskforce to help promote those messages.
In addition Orange have various education programmes. We have
actually produced a DVD that we have got into 46% of schools on
text-bullying, but we are working on more. There is one coming
on social networking and we are training up ambassadors who are
Orange staff who are going to go into schools and actually deliver
those safe-and-responsible-use messages so that we get to the
children as well as the parents. We are working on doing that
in parents' evenings as well as in the daytime with the children.
Q116 Mr Hall: Is there a different
role for the mobile service providers and the Internet service
providers? Are there things that those two should be doing differently
Mr MacLeod: There is a distinction
here. With a mobile device, for one thing there is not the product
on the market where you can download a filter actually onto the
device and control everything from there, so that is why we do
it at network level. Furthermore, it is a personal device, it
is really only going to be used by one person whereas with a PC
in the home, you have the filters available, but also the computer
is likely to be used by more than one person, so you have to be
able to tailor it to individual uses within the home. You ask
what more can be done. A major new initiative which is about to
be announced is that the BSI have been developing, in conjunction
with the Home Office and Ofcom, a standard, a public Kitemark
standard for the filtering products because there are lots of
them on the market and customers and consumers are very uncertain
as to which ones are effective and which ones are not. Once this
Kitemark is available and the filtering companies can go after
getting Kitemark approval, there will be a lot more clarity and
understanding within the consumer base as to which the good ones
to be buying and the ones to be implementing are.
Q117 Rosemary McKenna: Some people
suggest that the best way to protect children is to have the computer
in a public space within the family, in the living room where
everyone else is. If there are good filters, would that be necessary?
Ms Church: There is no substitute
for parental supervision. That child needs to be empowered to
go round their friend's house and use their PC which might not
be as well positioned in a public place. That child needs to be
able to cope with the risks of the real world. There is no substitute
for a parent sitting down, discussing what is safe and responsible
use and ensuring complete understanding of what the risks are
on the Internet.
Mr Bartholomew: May I echo that?
We have a responsibility and we take that seriously and technology
is part of the solution. However, if we are not careful, there
is a danger of giving a misleading message to parents, giving
them a false sense of security that we can solve all the problems
alone and there is not a role for the parent; and that is not
the case. Yes, we need to provide the technology, yes, we as industry
need to help educate and inform the public, but parents play a
crucial role and we must make sure they are able to do that but
also that they know they need to do that.
Q118 Rosemary McKenna: But more and
more the Internet is available through portable hand-held equipment
and parents cannot police that the way they can a computer within
the home. That is a big argument for education rather than filtering.
Mr Bartholomew: Parents can control
their children's use of mobile devices in a similar way to which
they control the home computer. They can ensure that access controls
are in place on the mobile device. Should they wish, they can
also look at their history of the URLs that the child has been
accessing. There are parallels there and they can use the technology:
technology is a very important part of the solution but it is
not the entire solution.
Ms Kramer: The majority of our
customers still have access controls in place; very few lift it
and that will apply for all content no matter where you access
it from, whether you access it from the Internet or on our portal.
Q119 Rosemary McKenna: What about
the development of cyber-bullying and happy-slapping through the
mobile phones. What are the companies doing to try to prevent
Mr Bartholomew: Firstly, on cyber-bullying
or text-message bullying, almost all the operators have dedicated
nuisance call bureaus; we have a nuisance call bureau based in
our customer service centre in Leeds. They can help customers
who are having problems with either malicious calls or text-message
bullying with a variety of options open to them. They include
changing the number, which solves the problem for some people
but it is not appropriate for everyone; it can be a bit of an
inconvenience. They can trace who has been sending the malicious
messages and send a warning to those individuals. Ultimately,
they can assist the police in taking action against those individuals
and we can cut them off if we find it is an O2 customer who has
been sending malicious messages either to other O2 customers or
customers on other networks. People in our nuisance call bureau
also go out into schools, in the same way that people in Orange
do as well, to try to educate children about what is acceptable
behaviour using new media technology and what to do if they are
unfortunate enough to be the recipient of a malicious message.