Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)|
1 APRIL 2008
Q260 Helen Southworth: Quite a number
of those things are general protection in society and I know we
are going to be exploring those further. Would it be possible
for you to let us have some information that is specifically in
terms of your budget on child protection and the areas that you
are specifically covering as follow-up information?
Mr Walker: Yes.
Q261 Helen Southworth: May I ask you
about the reporting of inappropriate content or reporting of abuse
bullying fears and concerns, some of which could be of a criminal
nature. CEOP has given us evidence about a very successful reporting
process that they have set up. Will Google be participating in
that so that people can report direct to CEOP and the triage process
could be carried out very rapidly to protect very vulnerable children?
Mr Walker: Yes, very much so.
We work very closely with CEOP and with the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, as well as
with a variety of groups like "Don't You Forget About Me"
and other non-governmental groups focussed on missing and exploited
children. We not only work on the law enforcement side of that
in responding to requests for informationwe receive thousands
of requests and hundreds of subpoenas each year and we provide
information that is useful to law enforcement on that frontbut
then also work in a more collaborative fashion with these different
organisations and we look forward to continuing doing that.
Q262 Helen Southworth: Are you going
to be making space available for a direct reporting process on
the front page?
Mr Walker: Within the company
we have a variety of different products. I think most of the concerns
and requests are focused on YouTube. YouTube does have a direct
online report page in addition to the community flagging, which
you may be familiar with, when there is an inappropriate video.
There is also an opportunity for people to communicate directly
with YouTube staff about particular concerns.
Q263 Helen Southworth: We have been
told that there are some cases where it is absolutely essential
that law enforcement agencies are the first point of reporting
and can take immediate action to protect children in the most
difficult cases. Are you going to put a direct report line through
Mr Walker: I would be interested
in talking further with CEOP about that. We have in many cases
a global platform, so we need to find something that will work
for law enforcement around the world. I think we have had a very
positive and productive working relationship with them thus far.
I think we will be able to do some things to further that collaboration.
I am not in a position to commit to specific implementation at
Q264 Helen Southworth: I think we
would be very interested to hear something further about that.
Mr Walker: I appreciate the concern.
Q265 Chairman: You stressed the global
nature of the Internet and Google is obviously active in a very
large number of countries around the world. In some of those countries
material may be deemed inappropriate or legal whereas in others
it may be seen to be acceptable. How do you deal with that? How
do you stop somebody in country A accessing material which is
illegal there by going and getting it from country B?
Mr Walker: It is an extraordinarily
complicated and difficult question and one that I have spent a
large amount of time on, as do my staff and teams of people around
the world. Several examples come to mind. One that was made public
within the last few months was criticism of the King of Thailand,
who is a demigod in Thai Buddhism. The notion of criticism was
offensive to the government and to many Thai people, but at the
same time there were political overtones to much of the criticism.
We did not want to be in the business of censoring political comment.
We worked very carefully with the Thai government to respect Thai
law, to make material that was illegal in Thailand unavailable
within Thailand, but without going to the extreme of letting one
country, any country, dictate the global content of the Internet.
We have done this in a variety of different scenarios. Germany
has particular concerns with regard to Nazi paraphernalia, for
example, India has concerns about things that are defamatory toward
Mahatma Gandhi, or Turkey toward Kemal Ataturk. We work carefully
with a variety of different tools to both block and, where appropriate,
remove. There is certain material, for example, child pornography,
which is generally thought to be abhorrent and unacceptable worldwide
and in those cases we would simply remove it from the site. In
other cases where there is a narrow or more focused concern we
have a variety of tools which we can use to limit access.
Q266 Chairman: Let us look at China
where there has been some controversy. You have gone along with
the requirements of the Chinese authorities in terms of what they
are willing to permit their citizens to see.
Mr Walker: China is a very difficult
area. I would note that in the course of the last couple of weeks
there have been a number of videos uploaded on YouTube with regard
to the riots and protests in Tibet. Those remained on YouTube
and were not removed, leading to the Chinese government shutting
down access to YouTube. I am not sure whether it has been reinstated
or not at this point. We take great pride in the fact that as
a search engine we are a provider of information, we facilitate
access to information, which is ultimately one of the best ways
of encouraging democratic change. That said, to operate in China
there is a certain level of interaction with the government that
is required. We take great pride in the fact that we filter less
than any other search engine operating in China. On your earlier
point, different countries around the world have different concerns.
We respect the German government's concern over Nazi paraphernalia
and we have worked with the Chinese government and with others.
Q267 Chairman: Do you detect that
the concerns being expressed here are greater than elsewhere or
are there specific concerns which are now being discussed in the
UK which demand specific solutions here?
Mr Walker: In the UK there is
a particular focus at the moment on child protection, which we
recognise. We do not think of it as a unique or special problem
but rather the first government to have focused on this. We are
very interested in working with the British Government on solutions
that will be scaleable because it is ultimately a worldwide problem.
It is not that the Germans do not care about their children online.
The question for us is how to implement this in a way that is
scaleable. There may be aspects that are nationally focused. We
continue to look at ways of implementing our guidelines in a way
that would have either a legal or cultural sensitivity built into
them so that we could have different standards for different countries,
but that is a work in progress.
Q268 Chairman: Given that it is a
worldwide problem, do you think there is a case for a worldwide
Mr Walker: Many of our solutions
are in fact worldwide. We have a variety of different tools, from
the global flagging to the global review teams that we have in
place, to an increasing emphasis on filtering tools which are
designed to block and remove inappropriate videos.
Q269 Chairman: Obviously you are
a global company so you do have global policies. I am thinking
more of whether or not there is a case for some kind of international
body to agree what are unacceptable standards and have some ability
to enforce those internationally.
Mr Walker: The history of international
efforts to try and control information has been a somewhat chequered
one. I think our initial response is that a self-regulatory model,
informed by the concerns of governments around the world, has
actually been relatively successful. That is not to say that mistakes
have not been made or things have not slipped through. If you
look at the growth of the platform, again just looking at Google
and the billions of searches that are done or YouTube where hundreds
of thousands of videos are uploaded every day and hundreds of
millions of videos are viewed every day, it has been a phenomenal
growth, with some problems. The risk of governmental or prescriptive
rules being imposed on an industry which is effectively less than
three years old runs a significant risk of unintended consequences.
Given the relative success of the model thus far and our desire
to continue to evolve our approach and to work carefully with
governments and reports like Dr Byron's, I think it has been fairly
Q270 Mr Sanders: Would the risk of
unintended consequences not simply impact on business models and
profits whereas actually it is about protecting children and human
Mr Walker: I would go back to
the power of the Internet. Many of these platforms do not make
money per se. They exist as platforms that are designed to facilitate
communication back and forth. The concern is that if you were
to pre-filter or prescreen all the content that is on the Net.
Remember the wide variety of things we are talking about here.
It is really not a broadcast medium; it is what is called in Silicon
Valley the "long tail" phenomena where the majority
of material is very small scale, for example, parents uploading
a video of their child's first steps so that they can send it
to the grandparents, a blogger who is blogging for a small community
of people or a shared document which, rather than being edited
in a traditional fashion by one person, is shared among 20 or
50 people for input and comment. The notion of setting up a regime
that would edit all of those comments or prevents you from posting
a comment on a blog before it had been screened by a government
agency I think would fundamentally change the way people work
with the Internet. Our response is to say we need clear standards,
we need to enforce those standards and respond very promptly where
a concern has been identified and thus far I think we have done
a pretty good job of that.
Q271 Adam Price: You have set out
for us the action that you have taken and the tools that you have
developed to minimize access to harmful content on the Internet.
It would be fair to say your view is that the system largely of
self-regulation that we have is working well. Others have told
us they believe that the current legal and regulatory framework
is inadequate. Would you accept that there are any areas where
there is a need for formal regulation or legislative changes?
Mr Walker: I do not want to speak
beyond my area of expertise. I would say that certainly we welcome
additional government efforts on media literacy; that is certainly
all to the good. We have been an active participant in a number
of discussions of codes of conduct currently being developed by
the DCSF with regard to cyber bullying and that are being developed
by the Home Office with regard to social networking and are due
to be released later this week. Ourselves and other internet companies
welcome that and think that is an appropriate model. I note that
the Byron Review suggested additional work along those lines.
We would be very interested in participating in that. With regard
to more prescriptive approaches as to what people can and cannot
post offline, to some degree the existing set of laws that are
out there with regard to legal and illegal conduct and whether
or not someone is aiding and abetting a crime have proved sufficient
in most of these cases.
Q272 Adam Price: As a company you
did broadly welcome the Byron Review. The Government has said
it is fully committed to implementing its recommendations. Do
you have any reservations about any of those recommendations?
Mr Walker: It is a long report
and something of a work in progress. We were delighted to have
the opportunity to work with Dr Byron and her staff and participate
in some of those conversations. We think it is an excellent step
in the right direction. Many of the recommendations are for further
study and analysis, so it is hard to know exactly what will come
out of all that, but directionally we are very supportive.
Q273 Adam Price: Are there any particular
reservations that you want to place on the record?
Mr Walker: There is nothing I
could pull out at this moment and say that we absolutely could
not live with.
Q274 Adam Price: There is this issue
raised in the report about a greater regulatory role for Ofcom
in this area of harmful content on the Internet. Would you be
comfortable with Ofcom developing a greater role, as posited in
Mr Walker: It is probably not
for me to suggest how the British Government should structure
its regulatory review. In general I think we have had a positive
working relationship with Ofcom and the other agencies that have
been involved, the DCMS and the Home Office. There is an advantage
to having a coordinating group, the Internet Council, for example,
bringing to bear a lot of the different concerns, which are similar
but not necessarily completely overlapping, to work through a
more structured framework for future work.
Q275 Adam Price: If Ofcom was to
have a policing role behind that Council would that not create
any particular worries for you?
Mr Walker: I think there is a
line between a self-regulatory code, informed by concerns that
have been brought before the Committee and a rule that would be
effectively trying to pre-clear or censor content before anyone
could post something to the Internet. I think we would have concerns
about the latter. The former, in terms of enforcement and continuing
to work with industry, I think we would welcome.
Q276 Rosemary McKenna: The YouTube
allow as content on YouTube. Is it not the case that users have
no obligation to read themor even to link to the relevant
pages or tick a boxbefore uploading a video?
Mr Walker: They are presented
with the terms before they go through. They say in the States
that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!
Q277 Rosemary McKenna: You can make
them tick a box to say that they have read them.
Mr Walker: We can present it.
I think we do a pretty good job of distilling it, of making it
not legalistic and making it accessible so that people of all
ages can review it. We were actually recognised early on in the
history of YouTube as a leader in terms of providing detailed
information about all the potential risks and issues, ranging
from the risk of infringing someone's copyright to the dangers
of posting offensive or inappropriate material. We communicate
fairly clearly to people that, not only will their uploads be
removed, but if they violate those terms on a repeated basis we
will terminate their accounts on YouTube, and we follow that quite
Q278 Rosemary McKenna: If they are
uploading a video which could be considered harmful they do not
Mr Walker: That is true. We have
no way of compelling one to read material we put before them.
Q279 Rosemary McKenna: Is there not
some way that you could make them go to that page?
Mr Walker: As part of the upload
process they are prompted to review various materials. There is
a lot there because there are a lot of potential concerns. The
response has been that in many cases when inappropriate content
is uploaded it is flagged very quickly. It is a three-legged stool
of ways of responding to violations. One is that we have a community
of hundreds of millions, maybe billions of users around the world
who review and very quickly flag material that they find offensive
and that has been very effective in triaging and identifying problematic
material. We review that quickly again with a global team. The
majority of material is reviewed within half an hour. The large
majority is reviewed within the hour and removed. Users can flag
different kinds of flags, for example, for child pornography or
copyright infringement or otherwise offensive material. We are
increasingly developing technology toolsGoogle is if nothing
else a technology companyto try and facilitate that, certainly
to block the reposting of videos that have already been determined
sorts of videos. It is in a sense easier to detect a copyright
infringing video when the copyright owner has posted the original
and cooperated with us. We can use other search tools to see if
a new upload is a match to that content that would infringe their
copyright. It is actually more complicated in some of this material
to determine exactly what is appropriate or not, to distinguish,
for example, a video of somebody smashing windows from a documentary
of the protests in Tibet or at the World Trade Organisation in
Seattle a few years ago. There are some nuanced questions that
are involved there.
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