Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
4 MARCH 2008
Q140 Alan Keen: Obviously this is
something that we should be aware of and you are hoping our inquiry
and then report will highlight these sorts of oncoming dangers.
We need to look ahead not just at what is happening now.
Mr MacLeod: Down the track, if
products come onto the market where you can do the tailoring and
the filtering at the device level rather than rely on what goes
on at the network level, that might be useful. It has happened
in the PC market because 85% of the market is Windows based and
there are huge economies of scale and there is a ready market
there for these filtering products to go at device level. The
economies of scale and various different operating systems and
such like make it more difficult, more challenging and also of
course it is an international market. The Nokias and the Motorolas
of this world are selling all across the globe, they are not selling
products for the British market really and within the UK perhaps
the levels of concern, the thinking, are possibly more advanced
than in other parts of the world. So that whole debate probably
needs to catch up a bit before we start seeing the filtering and
what have you being done at the device level.
Q141 Alan Keen: It is obviously good
news that you heard from your child yesterday, coming back from
school and you realised that the work that you have been doing
is now being reflected in school. We have reached this stage now
where the Select Committee is doing an inquiry. Is there something
else that we should be saying that education should be pursuing
with more energy than they are? Obviously progress has been made
as you indicated.
Mr MacLeod: That sort of advice
is always helpful and influential and I recognise the challenges
that the education system is under to deliver on all sorts of
things. However, there is absolutely no doubt about it that the
challenges that the Internet presents to us as a nation are very,
very different to what has gone before. In broadcasting it is
single geographic territory where command-and-control regulation
has been effective but that is just not going to work with the
Internet, so children and teachers have to develop their awareness.
When we talk about self-regulation, this is about individuals
self-regulating too. There needs to be a much, much greater appreciation
of people's responsibilities to behave in an appropriate fashion
and not do things like publish gang-rape sites on YouTube, which
is obviously completely unacceptable.
Q142 Mr Sanders: All mobile operators
provide filters to prevent access to Internet content on mobiles
with a classification of 18. Some operators set the filter to
maximum by default. Should it be mandatory for all mobile operators
to set access filters to maximum?
Mr MacLeod: I am not sure I quite
follow your question actually. The Internet filter on mobiles,
under the code, is an optional requirement and most of them provide
it by default to the pre-pay base.
Q143 Mr Sanders: They all provide
it, they provide the filters, but some operators set the filter
to maximum by default. Should that be the same across them all?
Mr MacLeod: My understanding is
that the editorial choices that they make, as to the level they
set the filter, are pretty similar actually.
Q144 Mr Sanders: How easy is it for
children to get around filters on mobile phones?
Mr MacLeod: It is much more difficult
than it would be in the domestic situation where, as somebody
has already pointed out, the children might know more about it
than the parents, because the filter is set at the network level.
It cannot be disarmed by a child; you actually have to go through
the age-verification procedure before you have the filter removed.
Q145 Mr Sanders: Have you received
any complaints about the filtering system?
Mr MacLeod: We have been operating
the code for getting on for three years and the level of complaints
that we have received about all aspects of the code, not just
that aspect, has been really very, very low indeed because there
are various channels through which we could receive complaints:
through Ofcomalthough they have no formal mandate in this
area they do get complaints about all sorts of things; through
our independent mobile classification body; through the MBG; and
through the operators themselves. Our experience is that it has
been very, very low, so we are reasonably confident that the policies
that we have been following have been appropriate.
Mr Bartholomew: We categorise
the types of phone calls we get into our customer service centres
from our customers. One category is for child-protection-related
issues. Going through the figures yesterday, I saw that last year,
one in 100,000 calls was a complaint or a question or a call connected
to child protection issues into O2. That may be to do with filters;
it may be to do with happy-slapping or text bullying. That is
the sort of level of calls we are getting into O2 at this point.
Q146 Chairman: Steven, you were saying
that you sat at home using your iPhone, but you were using a wireless
router rather than a mobile network. Presumably, if that is the
way most people are going to access the Internet, using a mobile
phone, that is something which you cannot filter at all.
Mr Bartholomew: Yes, that is correct;
not from a mobile network perspective.
Q147 Chairman: The ISP could.
Mr Bartholomew: Exactly. The only
way in which we could do it would be to seek to convince or persuade,
one way or the other, either the ISPs or the handset manufacturers
that they need to put controls in place. That could be either
through commercial agreements potentially with some of those companies
or just by sharing the learnings and the experiences that we have
had in the mobile space and convincing them that, in order to
maintain public confidence, actions need to be taken.
Q148 Chairman: It could be done another
way. We took evidence from Microsoft, who explained to us the
parental control systems that are built into Windows Vista and
therefore are at PC level in the software. Could you not therefore
have a similar protection built into the handset?
Mr Bartholomew: That is the option;
it is for the handset manufacturer. At the moment, as I say, the
only action that has been taken over the last six years has been
by the mobile network operators, the likes of O2 and Orange and
T-Mobile. Where we need to see things move forward in the future
is manufacturers of devices but also the wi-fi providers taking
steps as well. It is not just manufacturers of mobile phones,
it is also those other devices that do not even come near the
mobile network and the iPod touch or the PSP is a good example
of those devices. They are not mobile phones, but they are devices
that you can access a web through.
Q149 Chairman: Let us look at the
major manufacturers, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson and Motorola.
Are they putting parental control systems into their handsets?
Ms Kramer: We are seeing more
and more of the handset manufacturers embedding content within
their handsets and they will bypass our parental controls, or
they may well do. We are seeing it right now but to my knowledge
they do not have parental controls.
Q150 Chairman: Do you think they
should be doing more in this area?
Ms Kramer: Yes I do. Everyone
within the value chain should take responsibility for protecting
Q151 Chairman: So, is that something
that the network operators are talking to the handset manufacturers
Mr MacLeod: Yes it is, but we
are just one voice really and we are one market.
Q152 Chairman: We are another voice.
Do you think we should be talking to the mobile manufacturers?
Ms Kramer: Yes.
Mr MacLeod: Yes.
Mr Bartholomew: No problem.
Q153 Rosemary McKenna: You all seem
to be saying that the key is controlling access but implying that
there is no way to stop the harmful content being out there. Is
Mr MacLeod: It was not exactly
harmful content but last week we saw with the Drudge report and
Prince Harry of how little control we have. Despite the entire
British establishment, the population, not wanting something to
be published on the Internet, it was. So the answer to your question
is no, we are not in a position to control and prevent all harmful
content appearing on the Internet.
Q154 Rosemary McKenna: Providing
a control on all the devices is the only way to actually prevent
children and young adults from accessing that harmful content.
Ms Kramer: Access controls do
help but that is a technical solution. Hand in hand with that
it is also about media literacy, it is about educating children,
parents and teachers to teach them how to go onto the Internet
safely. You have to look at both those aspects together.
Mr Bartholomew: If you start with
the illegal content, if the content is deemed to be illegal, we
can and we do take action to prevent that either being posted
or people accessing it. If it is not illegal, there are things
that can be done. The companies that host that material can ask
themselves whether they are happy being associated with this kind
of content, whether they are happy for this content to be available
to the public over the Internet via their service.
Q155 Rosemary McKenna: Does that
apply also to the virtual sites?
Mr Bartholomew: It applies not
just to operators; it applies to content companies like YouTube
or others. Our personal take on this is that we do not want to
be associated with harmful content, we do not want to be associated
with content that glamorises violence or gangs, so we will not
allow it and if we see it, we will take it down on the sites that
we actually operate ourselves. For the rest of the Internet, because
we only own or have control over a very small piece of the Internet,
our answer is to give customers the ability just to turn that
part of the Internet off.
Q156 Rosemary McKenna: Is there nothing
that governments can do to say to companies that they must not
allow this content or access to this? I know there is good in
the virtual world, but it is the harm that is done.
Mr MacLeod: It is incredibly frustrating
I know to have to wrestle with this problem but you have just
said it: taking the good with the bad, overwhelmingly the opportunities
and the information opening up, the media plurality that is provided
through the Internet are a fantastically positive thing. The flip-side
is that we do have these extremely tricky issues to deal with
and if stuff gets published in Vanuatu and what have you, there
is no way that we are going to be able to prevent that. It is
about learning as individuals how best to go about using the Internet
safely using such tools as are available, but they also have their
limitations. It is about developing your own skill and sense of
Q157 Chairman: May I finally just
turn to media literacy? You have laid great stress on educating
parents to be aware of the regulatory structure that is in place,
the parental controls that are in place, can you say what you
are doing to contribute to greater awareness in media literacy?
Mr Bartholomew: You heard evidence
last week from Heather Rabbatts from the Media Literacy Taskforce.
O2 is a signatory of their media literacy charter and we see,
across industry, an awful lot being done in terms of trying to
educate customers; leaflets, dedicated websites, we have our own
dedicated child protection website and I know that T-Mobile does
as well. Orange does some great work on DVDs for schools. We have
recently just co-funded the new Childnet DVD for the DCSF to send
out into school as well. In terms of education material, in a
way the problem is not too little information but perhaps almost
too much information, too much fragmentation and not enough focus
and the challenge is how we take all this different information
from people like Microsoft, from T-Mobile, from Orange, from ourselves
and bring it all together, make it readily available to the public.
That is where we see Government playing more of an active role.
I endorse the recommendation that Microsoft made to the Committee
last week which is that there is a bigger role for Government
in this space and perhaps there is more that we can do to assist
Q158 Chairman: But just within the
mobile operators, do you all do your own thing or do you actually
come together to support initiatives?
Mr Bartholomew: A bit of both
it is fair to say.
Ms Church: A bit of both.
Mr MacLeod: We have done both.
Ms Church: We are all currently
working on a European schools net project which will see education
going out into all the schools for the teachers on how to get
these messages across.
Q159 Chairman: We have also heard
that some have actually questioned whether this is having any
effect at all. It is all very well trying to put this message
out but the people in a sense who most need to hear it are the
ones who are probably least able to. The children from households
where there is almost no parental responsibility are probably
the ones in greatest need of protection.
Mr MacLeod: I have heard that
comment made too and this may just be a time factor. It is all
relatively new and it is also relatively new that Internet protection
has been part of the formal education process. Let us give it
a bit of time there and let us keep going with our three-tracked
approach which is: through the formal education; through parental
education; through us doing what we can to educate our own customers.
The Ofcom media literacy audit, which was published about 18 months
ago, did reveal that things were not quite as bad as one might
think, bearing in mind all the comments one sees in the press
and what have you. We are starting from a reasonably high base.
Quite a lot of material is frankly quite dull to look at and parents
have got better things to do some of the time, but nonetheless,
if we keep plugging away at it, we will improve people's skill
levels, we will improve people's knowledge about how to go about
using the Internet safely. Keep plugging away at it rather than
having a dramatic change to what we are currently doing.
Ms Kramer: We all do provide information
on our websites, provide parents with tips and advice so that
they can speak to their children about how to use their mobiles
responsibly and we do know that people are going onto those sites
and we know which categories they are looking at and what they
are viewing. So they are interested and it is not just a case
of us putting it out there and not actually monitoring what goes