Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Google

ABOUT GOOGLE

  Google is widely recognized as the world's best search engine because it is fast, accurate and easy to use. The company also serves corporate clients, including advertisers, content publishers and site managers with cost-effective advertising and a wide range of revenue-generating search services. Through technology development and a continuing focus on innovation, we work every day on our core mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  YouTube is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, and it has retained its distinctive brand identity and operatesindependently (all YouTube employees have remained within the company).

  YouTube is a leading video hosting site, and the premier destination to watch and share original videos worldwide through a Web experience. YouTube allows people to easily upload and share video clips on www.YouTube.com and across the Internet through websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.

OVERVIEW

  The Internet has grown to become an amazing and diverse source of information for people of all ages. There are over 1 billion people online today—all creating, communicating and consuming information. The Internet has allowed people to express their views freely and openly. Google believes that allowing individuals to voice unpopular, inconvenient or controversial opinions is important. Not only may they be right but debating difficult issues in the open often helps people, and society, come to better decisions. Blogs, social networks and video sharing sites allow people to express themselves—to speak and to be heard—as never before. The opportunity for free expression is the greatest benefit and opportunity the Internet has delivered to society.

  Freedom of expression has associated risks. These risks apply to everyone but are, perhaps, of most concern in relation to children and young people.

  While most people agree in principle with freedom of expression, the challenge comes in putting theory into practice—allowing maximum benefit to society whilst minimising the risk of exposure to illegal, inappropriate or offensive content. At Google we have a bias in favour of people's right to freedom of expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power to the individual. But we also recognise that freedom of expression can't be—and shouldn't be—without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where boundaries need to be drawn. For a company like Google with services in more than 100 countries—all with different national laws and cultural norms—it is a huge challenge.

  In a few cases it's straightforward. For example, Google has a global product-ban against child abuse images, which are illegal in virtually every country. But when it comes to political extremism it's not so simple. Different countries have come to different conclusions about how to deal with this issue. In Germany there's a ban on the promotion of Nazism—so we remove Nazi content on products on Google.de (our domain for German users). Other countries' histories make commentary or criticism on certain topics especially sensitive. And still other countries believe that the best way for extremists to be discredited is to allow their arguments to be publicly exposed.

  People have different views about what should be allowed on Google's sites and beyond on the Internet. How and where to draw the boundaries is the subject of lively debate, even within Google. Google is not, and should not, be the arbiter of what does and does not appear on the Internet. Those are decisions the courts and those elected to government must make. We welcome this inquiry as an opportunity to debate how best to ensure that everyone, and in particular children, are able to enjoy the best that the Internet has to offer while keeping safe.

The benefits and opportunities offered to consumers, including children and young people, by the Internet

  Google believes that the opportunities for freedom of expression and access to information are the greatest benefits that the Internet has offered to consumers and, more broadly, to society.

  These opportunities are particularly important for children and young people as they learn about the world they live in. The Internet offers children and young people the opportunity to access information about issues of interest and concern to them, but it also offers the opportunity for them to reach out and make connections with their peers from different backgrounds and cultures through applications like social networking sites and instant messaging. Being able to connect with their peers can give children and young people a chance to express themselves and gain emotional and practical support and advice when they need it. The Internet can provide this generation of children with a freedom of discovery and expression unavailable to previous generations.

  Where access to information was previously limited by location, one of the most important benefits of the Internet has been to provide consumers with direct access to information wherever they are and at whatever time they seek it. Social networking and user interactive services are now hugely popular, and have become a compelling activity for many Internet users, particularly young people. These services are part of what has been termed the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Simply put, Web 1.0 was characterised by static web sites, download of content, limited use of search engines and surfing from one website to another. Web 2.0 represents a fundamental shift away from this model, towards a more dynamic and interactive Internet where content is generated by users, uploaded by others and enjoyed within online communities.

  The convergence of technology and communication platforms is also a significant development. For example, users can interact with each other across multiple platforms and devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs, game consoles, and PCs. This means that users can upload or download content on many different services and devices. The growth of "user generated content" has been phenomenal—for example, there are hundreds of thousands of new videos being uploaded to YouTube every day. There is significant opportunity to create more and better opportunities for users to express themselves creatively. Beyond this there is also potential to create opportunities for consumers to make their views known on issues of concern to them—an important opportunity when considered against a growing background of declining political participation.

  The wealth of information and resources available through the Internet offer exciting educational opportunities for the future. For instance, Google has developed a programme in the UK to provide information on how Google tools, such as Google Earth and Google Search, can be used as educational resources (http://www.google.co.uk/schools).

The potential risks to consumers, including children and young people, from exposure to harmful content on the Internet

  Most consumers, including children and young people, use the Internet positively but sometimes in ways that may place them at potential or actual risk.

  For adults, exposure to illegal content is an important concern, as is the risk of identity fraud as a result of the disclosure of sensitive personal information—particularly through social networking sites.

  For children, exposure to illegal or inappropriate content, whether such content is accessed deliberately or inadvertently is a concern. Children may also put themselves at risk of abuse or bullying through the disclosure of personal information online.

  YouTube, for example, offers Safety Tips, where we provide further guidance on how users, and in particular, young people, can enjoy video sharing web sites of user generated content safely. Here, we clearly state that "the first thing everyone needs to know is that YouTube is not for people under the age of 13".

Cyber bullying

  We appreciate that our video sharing platforms are being used by many individuals of all different ages from around the world. And, we diligently promote the Community Guidelines and Terms of Use that we have developed—a clear set of rules regarding what is, and is not, acceptable to post on the site.

  Unfortunately, some individuals choose to use the opportunities offered by the Internet to maliciously abuse others. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has produced guidance, "Cyberbullying: Safe to Learn—Embedding Anti-bullying Work in Schools", which defined "cyberbullying" as "the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the Internet, deliberately to upset someone else (September 2007, page 3).

  The YouTube Community Guidelines state clearly that:

    —  "There is zero tolerance for predatory behaviour, stalking, threats, harassment, invading privacy, or the revealing of other members' personal information. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube."

    —  "We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we do not permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status and sexual orientation/gender identity)."

  Cyberbullying may occur where users post inappropriate or harmful remarks about another user, or another users' content. As a result, YouTube provides users with the option to restrict the comments of others if they are unwelcome.

  Google has actively participated in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) working group, which published guidance on cyberbullying in September 2007. This guidance, aimed primarily at teachers (and parents), makes a series of recommendations on how to deal with cyberbullying in schools.

  In addition, YouTube and Beatbullying are working together in an online campaign to raise awareness of how to avoid and prevent bullying. We have created a Beatbullying YouTube channel (http://uk.youtube.com/beatbullying) to highlight anti-bullying activities, which was launched in November 2007 during Anti-Bullying Week in the UK. The channel features brief video messages from some of the world's most famous personalities who offer practical advice on bullying and how it can be prevented. The channel also shows young people and professionals talking about their experiences of bullying and the bullying prevention work they've been doing.

User generated content, including content that glorifies guns and gang violence

  We appreciate that concerns have been expressed by both politicians and the media about the use of video sharing platforms to post illegal and harmful content, including content that glorifies guns and gang violence. We require users to agree to Community Guidelines (http://uk.youtube.com/t/community_guidelines) and Terms of Use (http://uk.youtube.com/t/terms) before users are able to upload a video. These policies, purposefully written in easily understood language, provide clear advice as to what is acceptance content to upload to our services, and specifically states what is not allowed.

  The YouTube Community Guidelines clearly state that:

    —  "Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked or humiliated, don't post it."

  Unfortunately, as in real life, not everyone abides by the rules. As a result, we have enabled users to flag potentially harmful or inappropriate content, and we have recently taken aggressive steps to improve our flagging system by adding 18 new categories for flags, context help and the ability to enter comments (http://www.youtube.com/blog?entry=vQjIMRCXDV4). If a video has been flagged as inappropriate, a member of our dedicated operations team will review the video to determine if it violates the Terms of Use. Only a small fraction of user generated content is flagged as harmful or inappropriate, and even a smaller fraction requires removal. While flagged videos are not automatically taken down by the system, those that are deemed inappropriate will be removed and the user who uploaded the content will be notified. We will delete the users' account for repeated violations of the Terms of Use.

  We also offer users the opportunity to directly contact us through an on-line form which is sent to our operations team in relation to the reported matter. We will continue to innovate to maintain the high standards of the YouTube community.

The availability of personal information on social networking sites

  Online behaviour through social networking sites may also place users, including young people, at risk. A particular concern is the frequency with which children divulge personal information online to others. While this problem is not isolated to children, research undertaken by Professor Sonia Livingstone suggests that 46% of children (9-19-year-olds) have divulged personal information to someone that they have met online (UK Children Go Online, 2005, page 24). Behaviour of this kind may leave children vulnerable to the unwanted attention of others, whether through bullying, or the attention of pedophiles (ie "grooming").

  Google has been involved in the drafting of guidance for the providers of social networking services, which will soon be published by the UK Home Office. This guidance will include a series of recommendations to service providers on how to make users aware of the implications of disclosing personal information on social networking sites. It will also make recommendations as to how consumers should be aware of the available options to minimise risks they may inadvertently expose themselves to.

  YouTube includes information about how to protect personal information on the "Safety Tips" page (http://uk.youtube.com/t/safety). This encourages users to think about whether the content they intend to post should be uploaded in the first place or only restricted to selected friends (marked "private"). It also suggests that users think carefully before revealing personal information which could be misused by others.

  The Safety Tips clearly state that:

    —  "Personal information like your telephone number or home address should never be shared with other users."

Content that incites racial hatred, extremism or terrorism

  YouTube does not allow content that incites racial hatred, extremism or terrorism.

  The Community Guidelines state clearly that:

    —  "We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we don't permit hate speech, which is content intended to attack or demean a protected group based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnic origin, veteran status, colour, age, disability or nationality."

  If content violates these guidelines it may be removed by our dedicated operations team.

Content that exhibits extreme pornography or violence

  YouTube also does not allow content that exhibits extreme pornography or violence.

  The Community Guidelines state clearly that:

    —  "YouTube is not for pornography or sexually explicit content. If this describes your video, even if it's a video of yourself, don't post it on YouTube. Also, be advised that we work closely with law enforcement and we report child exploitation."

    —  "Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked or humiliated, don't post it."

The tools available to consumers and industry to protect people from potentially harmful content on the Internet

  While the Internet provides an amazing opportunity for freedom of expression and for people to access useful information, some online material poses serious risks to children and families; and some online behaviour violates the law and should be stopped.

  Google has developed a range of mechanisms to provide all of our users, and in particular young people, with a safe experience on the Internet. Our approach has three primary elements:

  (1)  powerful tools to empower families to control their activity online;

  (2)  cooperation with law enforcement and industry partners to stop illegal content and activity online; and

  (3)  educational efforts to increase awareness about online safety.

  SafeSearch tool for users to filter unwanted content. We understand that many people prefer not to have adult content included in their search results, especially when children are using the computer. Google has developed its own SafeSearch filter, which uses advanced technology to block pornographic and explicit content from search results. Users can customize their SafeSearch settings by clicking on the "Preferences" link to the right of the search box on Google.co.uk.

  Cooperation with law enforcement to combat child exploitation. Google responds to thousands of law enforcement requests worldwide for assistance each year and has a legal team devoted to this effort 24 hours a day. We respond to hundreds of subpoenas per year as part of our cooperation in local, federal, and international child safety investigations.

  Prohibition on illegal content and abuse in our products. For example, our AdWords program has a strict policy prohibiting advertising that promotes child abuse images or other illegal material, and all ads are reviewed to ensure their compliance with this policy. We invite our users to tell us about illegal content or abuse they encounter on the Web or in our products through our Help Center. When we discover child abuse images or are made aware of it, we respond quickly to remove and report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

  Employing technology to fight child exploitation. Google works with coalitions of financial and technology companies, as well as law enforcement authorities, to develop new solutions aimed at eradicating child abuse images on the Internet. We have also initiated a technology partnership with NCMEC in which we're donating Google hardware and software to improve NCMEC's ability to manage incoming reports of child exploitation.

  Support for educational efforts to increase awareness about child safety online. We're working with many non-profit organizations, including Beatbullying; the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre; Childnet; Internet Watch Foundation; and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK to provide support and promote access to resources about Internet safety. Generally speaking, we maintain an open dialogue with child safety organisations and seek their guidance when content on our platform is not illegal but potentially harmful or inappropriate.

  Education and media literacy form a critical part of keeping users safe online and empowering them to manage their online experience. Responsible Internet use and online safety are considered essential life skills for children and young people. Ofcom's Media Literacy Audit: Report on media literacy amongst children, shows that children and young people receive information about Internet safety from a range of sources (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/medlitpub/medlitpubrss/children/).

  The most challenging areas for Google are where we host other people's content—offerings like Blogger, Orkut or YouTube. On the one hand we're not generating the content and we aim to offer a platform for free expression. On the other hand, we host the content on our servers and want to be socially responsible. So we have terms and conditions we ask our users to follow. Google does not, however, want to be a gatekeeper. We don't, and can't, review content before it goes live, any more than a telephone company would screen the content of calls or an ISP would edit emails. Technology can sometimes help but it is rarely a complete answer. We also have millions of active users who are vocal when it comes to alerting us to content they find unacceptable or believe may breach our policies. When they do we review it and remove it where appropriate. These are always subjective judgments and some people will inevitably disagree. But that's because what's acceptable to one person may be offensive to another.

  Ultimately, we give users the ability to manage the tools needed to protect themselves from potentially harmful or inappropriate content on the Internet. For example, most uploaded content to YouTube is in compliance with our Community Guidelines and Terms of Use. We also provide information that makes it clear to all users what we expect in regards to the content they submit.

The effectiveness of the existing regulatory regime in helping to manage the potential risks from harmful content on the Internet and in video games

  Public bodies play an important role. In the UK, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has launched a national campaign "Think U Know" (www.thinkuknow.co.uk), which is also available on the CEOP YouTube channel (http://uk.youtube.com/user/ceop). This campaign provides young people with advice and guidance on how to have fun, stay in control of their personal information, and report any problems they may encounter in the online environment. Similarly, Childnet, a UK children's charity, has created an innovative and successful campaign called "KnowITAll" to help educate young people, parents and teachers about how to use the Internet safely and positively (http://www.childnet-int.org/kia/).

  Education and awareness campaigns, such as CEOP's "ThinkUKnow" and Childnet's "KnowITAll" campaigns, can successfully inform children, young people and parents about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly. Industry widely believes that such campaigns, in addition to technology solutions, are the most practical and useful steps to help manage risks online, and access the information and benefits the Internet can bring.

  Google believes there needs to be a broader recognition and understanding that managing the potential or actual risks from potentially harmful or inappropriate content on the Internet is the ultimately the responsibility of parents and carers. While we recognise that industry, teachers and other stakeholder groups have a role to play in managing risks online, we can not assure that young people will not engage in activities which may pose potential risks. It is vital that parents and carers become involved in young people's use of the Internet, including social networking and other user interactive services. We also believe that the best opportunities to develop new ways of managing the potential risks will arise through strategic partnerships between those working in the Internet sector and practitioners with direct experience of working with young people.

January 2008



 
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