Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 258-259)


1 APRIL 2008

  Q258 Chairman: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to this further session in the Committee's inquiry into harmful content online and in electronic games. Since our last meeting our deliberations have been informed by the publication of Dr Byron's report and we will be hearing from her later, but before that I would like to welcome Kent Walker, the General Counsel of Google and to thank you for calling in on us on your way back from South-East Asia. I know you would like to make a brief statement to the Committee first.

  Mr Walker: Thank you very much, Chairman. We appreciate the chance to speak with you this morning. I am Kent Walker, the General Counsel of Google Incorporated. We are one of the world's leading search engines and also a significant player in a number of other forms of Internet content, including YouTube, Blogger, Gmail and various forms of Geo-spatial navigation (such as Google Earth and Maps). My personal background includes having worked, not only for Google, but for eBay, Netscape, and America On Line and having served as a Public Prosecutor for the Department of Justice in the United States. Also, my wife and I are the parents of three children, 14, 11 and eight, who are active Internet users, so I see these issues from a variety of perspectives. It is clear that the Internet has been a wonderful thing for the world. It has changed the way people communicate, live and work, it has made access to information easier and, significantly, has allowed a generation to grow up as creators of content, not just consumers of content. When many secondary school students are generating their own pages online, on Bebo and MySpace, Facebook, Blogger and YouTube, they shift into being not just consumers, but authors and artists and really change their relationship with the media. This is an important part of the message of media literacy that is an important part of the inquiry today. That is not to say that the Internet is an unalloyed good. There are issues and challenges with all new technologies and all new communication platforms. We are focussed very much on the difficult question of balancing the risk of chilling free speech with the very real risk of harm to children and offensive content more generally on the Net. We think of this as a clash of valid but contending arguments on each side. We struggle every day around the world with different formulations of these questions. We see it as a shared responsibility. Certainly parents have a role to play, as Dr Byron has pointed out in her report, in helping their children become media literate, to oversee them, to educate them, to make them better consumers and producers, authors and creators of content. Government too has a role to play. I know that Ofcom has taken a leading role in media literacy here. Other government organisations have worked closely with us and with others to educate children and to work on the law enforcement side of things where appropriate. And industry has a significant responsibility to work on our own platforms and with our users to encourage safe and sophisticated use of the various tools that are now available. We do a number of things both at Google and YouTube to help balance this desire to make the world's information universally accessible and useful and to protect children and to deal with offensive content. We provide SafeSearch technology in our search engine to address the risk of inappropriate photos and text where appropriate. We have guidelines on YouTube and on our other community sites that set down strict, clear and plain-English formulations as to what is acceptable and what is not. We have a variety of different tools to remove material that violates those guidelines. We work very closely with a number of different government organisations and non-profits around the world and in the UK to try to encourage media literacy and the safe use of our platforms and, where appropriate, we co-operate quite closely with law enforcement to deal with cases of abuse and improper content that is online. It is very early days in the history of the Internet. Google has existed as a company for nine years and YouTube for less than three years. We think that this balanced approach has worked quite well in fostering the growth of a new and dynamic medium. It has brought a lot of benefits, while making appropriate and increasing efforts to deal with the problems that have arisen. We recognise it is a continuing conversation and we welcome the discussion this morning.

  Q259  Helen Southworth: I would like you to focus on some of the issues around corporate responsibility but very specifically on child protection. What annual budget does Google set in the UK for online child protection?

  Mr Walker: Because our platforms are global we do not break that out by country. I would say we spend millions of pounds a year on a variety of different things across all of our different products and that includes specific contributions to child protection organisations and those contributions are both in cash and in kind. One of the most valuable things that Google can do is give advertisements to services that are hoping to protect children so that when somebody puts in a search term like "suicide", for example, a user or a child is directed to a suicide prevention line or a suicide hot-line. We do an awful lot of that. In addition, I think a lot of the work we are doing with regard to filtering and evaluating content to make sure that there is very little chance that an inappropriate thing slips through is in a sense a very major contribution, tens of million of pounds, perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds, across all of our different platforms.

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