Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)


4 MARCH 2008

  Q120  Rosemary McKenna: Do you think schools are doing enough?

  Mr MacLeod: They are starting to. The evidence I saw with my own eyes yesterday tells me that they are doing dedicated lessons for Internet-type issues. The right messages are getting through. Perhaps they could do more, perhaps that might be a possibility, but I get the impression that there is definitely progress in that area.

  Ms Kramer: When children go to school at the age of four/five they will have IS lessons; hand-in-hand with that, schools could give them advice about how to use the Internet responsibly rather than waiting a couple of years.

  Q121  Rosemary McKenna: That is right and there comes a stage where children have to be exposed to risk of some kind; overprotection is not going to be a good thing. They have to learn how to do that and it is a balance between whether it is school and home or the providers who actually do that. Someone suggested last week that maybe we should provide equipment without cameras. Do you think that would work, that parents should be able to buy a mobile phone without a camera?

  Mr MacLeod: You can. They are on the market. They are not very popular any longer.

  Q122  Mr Sanders: It is very difficult to buy one; very difficult indeed.

  Ms Church: Children would not be happy with a phone which was not the same as the one all their friends have.

  Mr MacLeod: We should also take some of the positives from the use of cameras. I heard the Director-General of the BBC the other day saying that when there is a breaking news story people want to see this first-hand eye-witness stuff. They do not want to see the film coming in from his cameraman which has been sent down two hours after the event.

  Q123  Chairman: Would you like, therefore, to comment on the story which is leading Sky News this morning which is the woman who was gang-raped and those who carried out the crime filmed it, presumably on a mobile telephone, and uploaded it to YouTube where it was then seen by 600 people before YouTube removed it.

  Mr MacLeod: There is absolutely no question about it, that that was absolutely sickening and contemptible. The only way we are going to prevent this is if we pre-screen everything that gets published on the Internet. Clearly that is not really going to be a very practical answer. YouTube, I believe, has something like 10 hours of video going up every minute. Two things have to happen: obviously the provider has to remove the content absolutely instantaneously and, secondly, the people who perpetrated this have to feel the full force of the law.

  Q124  Chairman: This is probably more a question for YouTube than you, but is there any way in which it is possible to identify the number from which content of that kind was uploaded?

  Mr MacLeod: You are right; it is probably more a question for YouTube.

  Q125  Chairman: But is there anything you do in terms of working with the police in this area?

  Ms Church: We do work with the police. Under the RIPA Act, if the police came to us and made a request for data that we hold, then we would of course release it.

  Q126  Mr Sanders: Would it be technically possible within a telephone that has a camera for some code to identify that telephone that was used to film that content?

  Mr MacLeod: It depends how it is done.

  Mr Bartholomew: It depends how the individual uploaded the video or the photo. If they sent the content over the mobile-phone network perhaps to a short code, to a number, they sent a media message in the same way you send a text message, it should be possible to trace it back to the handset. If, however, they just used the mobile phone as a cheap video camera, they took the image and then they connected the phone to a computer using the USB cable or transferred the images in infra-red, if they came nowhere near the mobile network, then there would not be that trace and you would not be able to link the handset. I would imagine you would not be able to link the handset back to the user.

  Ms Church: That would fall to the ISP then to step in.

  Q127  Chairman: But for sheer convenience, the likelihood is that they will use the mobile network to upload, will they not?

  Mr Bartholomew: It is the reverse; most people upload content to YouTube via their PCs, often because it is quicker and easier and it is cheaper as well. If you have a fixed broadband tariff and you pay £20 a month, there will be no additional extra charge for doing that, whereas if you did it over a mobile network, you would pay to do so.

  Q128  Chairman: I take that point entirely, but if they did decide to use the mobile network to upload content, are you able to keep a record of that? Is there some data that remains which you can identify?

  Ms Church: The service provider would have those records, if they built their service in a way to save them?

  Q129  Chairman: Your company, if it were your customer.

  Ms Church: It would be YouTube who would save the record of what had been uploaded.

  Q130  Chairman: But you do not have any kind of record?

  Mr Bartholomew: It depends again how the customer has used their device. If they sent a message or made a phone call, we have records of that activity. We are required in law to retain that data and we provide the information to the police and to other agencies under the framework of the RIPA Act. We all have dedicated police liaison units; ours operates 24/7 and that kind of request happens day in, day out.

  Q131  Chairman: I am still not absolutely clear about this. If I use my mobile phone to film an event and I upload that video content to YouTube using the mobile network, do you have data relating to that upload that you store?

  Ms Kramer: We would not necessarily have the picture, but we could tell the provider the phone number, we could say "Yes, at that time something happened" and we would have a call record but not necessarily the content itself.

  Q132  Chairman: So the most you could do is say "You used your phone to upload something to YouTube at that particular time"?

  Ms Kramer: Yes.

  Mr Bartholomew: If they used the network rather than their PC.

  Chairman: I understand that; absolutely.

  Q133  Alan Keen: You said there were five main providers. Who are the other providers and what type of providers are they and what is going to happen with the developing technology? You would love it to stay at five main providers, but if competitors get in what can happen with the increasing and improving technology?

  Mr Bartholomew: There are five network mobile operators in the UK, who operate networks, who build the infrastructure and then a number of us have wholesale relationships with other companies who operate what are called "virtual mobile operators"; they do not build the networks themselves, they just use our networks, but they market their services via the high street to the consumer. They are the two categories. I guess what we are starting to see, however, is that there are other forms of handheld mobile devices which have the ability to access and browse the Internet, particularly using wi-fi, and that is a whole new challenge for the consumer, the wi-fi connectivity in a new generation of handheld devices like the iPod touch or the Sony PSP or even the Nokia N95 or the iPhone.

  Q134  Alan Keen: I am sorry to interrupt because I am fascinated by what you are saying, but before we get onto this, the people who are virtual providers, how does that work? Do they have to adhere to your IMCB rules? Do you have complete control of that?

  Mr MacLeod: Virgin Mobile, who is the largest virtual operator, is a signatory to the code and then the others are rather smaller, piggy-backing on these networks and they adhere to the code, yes.

  Q135  Alan Keen: They adhere to it and they have all signed up to it. Can you control that if somebody comes along and says "I am not interested in that"? Presumably you would stop it from using your network.

  Mr MacLeod: Yes; correct.

  Mr Bartholomew: Yes.

  Q136  Alan Keen: Sorry to interrupt. Could you carry on with what you were saying about the wi-fi developments? It is fascinating.

  Mr Bartholomew: From the perspective of the consumer, the new generation of devices gives a fantastic mobile Internet experience. Finally the hype, which we have all heard about for years, has become a reality. You can surf the Internet at high speed, on the move, using wi-fi, and the iPod touch and the iPhone are two very good examples of that. The experience is fantastic and it is like having a computer with a smaller screen. I have had an iPhone for four months. In the evening at home I use it to surf the Internet via wireless router. I spend more time surfing on my iPhone that I do on a laptop; the experience is that good. The challenge from a content regulation point of view is that many of these devices cut out the mobile network altogether. The Sony PSP and the iPod touch are two very good examples of that. We have no control over how citizens use those devices to access the Internet, because they are not mobile phones and they come nowhere near a mobile phone network. What we need to see is other parts of the value chain take a more active role. For the last six years it has just been the mobile phone operators. If we are going to retain public confidence moving forward over the next six years, it cannot just be the mobile operators, it needs to be the handset manufacturers but also the wi-fi providers getting more actively engaged in addressing the problems.

  Q137  Alan Keen: Are the people starting to address this or just beginning to think about it? I know it is not your direct responsibility.

  Mr Bartholomew: I think they are and I hope they will because, like us, they would recognise that there is just a responsibility and a duty to do it, but I suspect they see it the same way. They are big companies, they have big brands and if they want to protect their brand but also grow their market and retain consumer confidence, they need to protect the public, they need to protect their customers.

  Q138  Alan Keen: Are we safe as the market is developing, because you have a company of a certain size to develop the technology; the small companies do the development initially, but to operate with the public, do you have to be of a certain size or are we going to get to the point with the technology changing where there are very small companies who would be less responsible than the people that you are representing?

  Mr MacLeod: It probably depends what part of the value chain you are talking about. In terms of major infrastructure and putting out the transmitter bases, you probably do have to be a pretty large company to get involved in that but at the content provision end, there are very, very, very few barriers to entry. We have basically got hundreds of millions of people out there publishing stuff on the Internet.

  Q139  Alan Keen: Talking about mobile telephones, is that restricted by development costs so small people cannot get into that? How many manufacturers are there now of mobile phones? Is that controllable or is that opening up?

  Mr MacLeod: It is certainly true that quite a large proportion of the market is probably concentrated within five or six providers, but yes, there is still potential for there to be manufacturers at the margin producing niche products certainly.

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