Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)|
29 APRIL 2008
Q420 Helen Southworth: Are you content
Mr Angus: Yes; it is consistent
with the Home Office guidelines; we are fully compliant.
Q421 Helen Southworth: You are quite
content that you are completely compliant. Does that mean you
are not going to do anything else?
Mr Angus: I would not say that.
As I said earlier, the safety process for us is one that we constantly
measure in terms of effectiveness, so as user behaviour and site
functionality changes we will change our site to reflect that
so we maintain as safe an environment as we can.
Q422 Helen Southworth: Perhaps I
may ask the same set of questions to Bebo.
Dr O'Connell: On every single
person's profile page there is a link to report abuse; it is just
underneath your photo. You click on that. We have a pack, which
my colleague can disseminate to the Committee afterwards, on page
6 of which you come to the report abuse page. Down here is a specific
link in the UK which says "File a police report", and
you click on that. What comes up is the report that you fill inthe
same one that goes to CEOP. That currently comes directly to us.
If you imagine a bucket, it comes to the highest priority team.
That is sent to CEOP. Ideally, what we are trying to achieve with
CEOP is that it goes simultaneously to them and to us, so we are
working with them and can achieve that. I hope that will be there
at some point. We also have information for our users. When you
click on "File police report" we are conscious that
to a teenager that can be quite daunting, so it gives an explanation
of the circumstances in which one might want to do that. My background
is that of a forensic psychologist. I have researched how paedophiles
exploit the Internet and leverage vulnerable young people, so
this done in a helpful way to explain in what sorts of circumstances
one might want to use this report. It goes to the highest priority
team which turns it round as quickly as possible and goes straight
back to CEOP. I hope that at some point in the near future it
can be simultaneous.
Q423 Helen Southworth: How long does
it take at the moment?
Dr O'Connell: It takes between
one and four hours.
Q424 Helen Southworth: In terms of
your actual reporting to CEOP and it being filed by a young person
or whoever raises the concern, currently what is the maximum time
it takes to get to CEOP?
Dr O'Connell: We hear back from
our abuse management teams in one to four hours. At the outside
it is 14, but for the highest priorities it will be shorter than
Q425 Chairman: You are dealing with
young children some of whom will think it quite amusing to file
a police report about one of their friends. Do you filter them
and decide that particular reports are serious accusations, or
do you pass everything to CEOP?
Dr O'Connell: We pass on those
ones. It is a little daunting and it is not simple. You are perfectly
correct to say that some of these cases arise perhaps because
they are upset with their friends. There are a number of options
on the report of abuse. They will report abuse and say that so
and so has been mean and done x, y and z. We receive
quite a number of those reports, but we work to try to make it
look at bit more serious when you fill in your details and say
that this is a police report. That was specifically why we did
it. We will not eradicate the temptation to file such reports
100%. That is just human behaviour and is part of being a teenager.
They have to fill in those details; they are asked for full names,
email addresses, ages and city address. That is what CEOP requires
users to fill in.
Q426 Chairman: But if you try to
make it daunting is there not a danger that in a genuine case
you might put them off?
Dr O'Connell: If they use our
report abuse systemif they simply click on and report general
abuse to ussome of those reports come through that mechanism
also. That is one of the things we have tried to cover in the
Home Office internet task force, so the networking guidelines
are a recognition that sometimes when abuse happens people need
to go to other places like the NSPCC and get that sort of support
first before making a police report. That is a very good, valid
Q427 Helen Southworth: In terms of
protection of the individual child, if there is a need for further
investigation do you have the ultimate say within the company
as to how that is dealt with? Do you have mechanisms in place?
If you had concerns about an individual child would it come through
to you so you could determine how it would be dealt with or what
action needed to be taken?
Dr O'Connell: We have a dedicated
team which is specifically trained so it understands the Regulation
of Investigatory Powers Act and how the company responds to requests
for information. We also have very close relationships with law
enforcement. About a week ago my colleague was involving in training
in Edinburgh. Does the Committee know about SPOT, that is, single
point of contact law enforcement officers who are trained about
the acquisition of telecommunications data, such as IP addresses,
date and time stamps? We have very close relationships with law
enforcement officers in the UK who request information. If we
have concerns about something what do we do? We will contact them
and let them know of our concerns.
Q428 Helen Southworth: In terms of
business development within Bebo, do things come to you for a
check on how it relates to child protection and harmful content?
Dr O'Connell: Yes. I also have
a safety engineer, so it is not reliant solely on me. Our products
have to go through a safety check.
Q429 Helen Southworth: Can you veto?
Dr O'Connell: Yes.
Q430 Alan Keen: I would like to follow
Helen Southworth's question about budgets and so on. I understand
that it is difficult to answer that. I have spent most of my working
life in the private sector. I recall that when the first serious
health and safety legislation was introducedit had nothing
to do with computers which did not exist in those dayssomeone
on the main board had to be nominated as the person in the company
responsible for safety. I thought that was very onerous and then
began to realise that it was me and I had to make sure that there
were people like you perhaps working to me. Obviously, you are
experts in your field, but is there someone nominated on the main
boards of both companies who is to blame if there is a fault in
the safety mechanisms? If not, should there be? Should we recommend
that in our report?
Mr Angus: Ultimately, it falls
to me; I oversee all of the safety issues in the safety team.
The chief security officer came from Microsoft. We have technical
people who are well versed in how some of these safety measures
may be circumvented so we can do our very best to ensure that
when implemented they are effective and work. We work with all
the engineers throughout the company to make sure that they also
live and breath the safety aspects and understand their.
Dr O'Connell: Similarly, I am
chief safety officer and I sit on the main board.
Q431 Mr Hall: There is now no doubt
that the Internet can be an extremely dangerous place for young
people to explore. The thrust of your evidence this morning is
that the solution to the problem is the control of access to it.
In the UK government believes that industry self-regulation is
the answer and not necessarily primary legislation. Is the present
British position working well, or is there anything that the government
should be doing to make it work better?
Mr Angus: I think it is working
well. I believe that self-regulation in this area is the appropriate
means to approach safety. Because it evolves so quickly we as
a company must be able to be agile and flexible in how we approach
the safety measures, look at how different applications are being
used on our site and how user behaviour changes from day to day.
We can change how our settings and policies are applied and implement
new features to ensure the safety of our younger users. We can
change our messaging, for example. You mentioned legislation.
I think the other aspect of it is close co-operation with government
via the Home Office, this Committee, CEOP and others, to understand
their goals and needs. In terms of legislation, the UK is far
ahead of other countries. There are many countries where grooming
activity may not be illegal. For these kinds of things it is essential
that law enforcement has the ability to prosecute these criminals
who engage in this activity. The other aspect currently being
addressed is a registry so that we make sure we keep registered
sex offenders off these sites by whatever means, for example by
email registration so they can be screened.
Q432 Mr Hall: Is that possible?
Mr Angus: Sometimes it is difficult
to force them to comply, but when they do not and we catch them
there are additional penalties and that in and of itself becomes
Dr O'Connell: Speaking to your
point about self-regulation and the formation of the Home Office
Internet Task Force, we spent 18 months sitting round a table
with all the various stakeholders: law enforcement, child welfare
people, experts like Sonia Livingstone, the Department for Education
and those involved in parenting organisations. It is an arduous
and long process, as it should be, to arrive at these recommendations.
The Home Office internet task force is looked at round the world
as a model of good practice. In terms of Dr Byron's recommendations
and the creation of a UK Council, we believe that those are good
recommendations and are a natural progression of the work of the
Home Office internet task force that has been going on for years.
The self-regulation model is definitely the best way to go. To
pick up my colleague's point, because of the exponential growth
of communication technologies and capabilities which are changing
rapidly it is critical that the industry and safety people like
ourselves are at the table to talk about the emerging patterns.
That is an effective way to go forward. Is there room for improvement?
There is always room for improvement. We need to keep focusing
and looking at the effectiveness of the measures that we put in
Q433 Mr Hall: Is there any legislation
that works which we can import from abroad? Is there anything
in the States that works that we do not have here?
Mr Angus: Obviously, you are way
ahead of the curve in terms of grooming legislation, but the registration
requirements for sex offenders and the criminalisation of using
other means of communication on the Internet that is unregistered
should very much be criminalised.
Q434 Mr Hall: Dr O'Connell, in answer
to Nigel Evans you talked about those people responsible for supervising
children, for example teachers. There is the interesting expression
"digital literacy". I may have misheard what you said.
I thought you said that it was the responsibility of government
to ensure that the people responsible for children were digitally
literate rather than people from within the industry.
Dr O'Connell: I think government
needs to look at our teacher training programmes and whether there
should be a section in that course that addresses the issue of
communication technology, social networking sites and collaborative
spaces like Moodle that young people are using in schools. Government
needs to make sure that that education is more than sufficient
to communicate safety messages, an understanding of wellbeing
online and how to keep young people safe and then review for those
teachers who are currently in employment how to facilitate a process
through continuing professional development programmes whereby
they have the same access to the sorts of education they need
adequately to educate young people in their care.
Q435 Mr Hall: But children do not
access the Internet just at school; predominantly they do so from
Mr Angus: The educational process
is definitely a shared responsibility. It is incumbent upon us
as businesses to do what we can to explain our technology and
services to our users so they understand the safety measures,
why we have them and why they should embrace them, and also to
explain them to the teachers so they can engage in a productive
dialogue with students and it can become very much part of the
curriculum, as it should be. We also need to educate parents so
they are there not only to supervise and provide guidance but
answer questions and be a participant in their children's online
activity. That is the crux of it. Going even beyond parents, teachers
and students, the education of law enforcement is also of utmost
importance. We have a very close working relationship with law
enforcement. We prepare a law enforcement guide for police officers
to use when conducting investigations. We have had numerous calls
where the police may be investigating a crime and they are not
quite sure what information we have and what they should ask for
but they know that there may be some information available. We
have prepared a guide so they can understand what we have, how
they can get access to it and how it may help their investigations.
In 2007 there was a murder case in which we were able to work
closely with the police and provide information relating to IP
addresses and online communication which enabled them to catch
the suspect who I believe is being sentenced in a couple of weeks.
Dr O'Connell: These things can
be part of the solution. One of the things we need to conceptualise
is that we can harness the positive potential of these companies
in a myriad of ways, one of which is the Teach Today website,
to which we have already referred, where social networking sites
and mobile operators come together to provide information and
education for teachers. That partnership between ministries of
education and industry to produce that kind of educational material
is quite a landmark way to go forward and is a demonstration of
the commitment of industry and also recognition by those ministries
that they need that sort of input if they are to educate students
in a way that ensures young people use these sites in safe and
responsible ways to the maximum extent. That kind of innovative
partnership approach is really critical in terms of augmenting
people's understanding of digital literacy and it is something
that will hugely benefit UK users here. Bebo has done that in
that it created the set of animations and videos to which I referred
and put them on the home page of our site. We went out and spoke
to teachers who said that Bebo was not accessible in some schools
and so this was not of much use to them. We thought we would then
create a different site called Safe Social Networking.com which
should be accessible from schools. Therefore, it is just the educational
materials, animations and videos. We then went back to teachers
who said they did not always have reliable internet access in
their schools. Therefore, we made them downloadable and so you
do not need internet access. We also mapped them onto the school
curriculum with the help of a company accredited with the Qualifications
and Curriculum Authority. Therefore, the information teachers
needlessons, plans and worksheetsthat they would
use with students have also been created for them and put on a
different site in case they cannot access Bebo. We have a collaborative
approach in working with and talking to head teachers and IT teachers.
The Department for Education developed a very useful cyber bullying
guide. We worked with teachers in our schools engagement strategy;
we said this had been produced and these were the sorts of videos.
We recommend a school assembly to make people aware that, for
example, when you sign into Bebo your IP address is flashed up
to tell you that you are not anonymous online and if you misbehave
you create a digital record of your bad behaviour. In my previous
role I ran the cyberspace research unit which was funded by the
European Commission to develop education programmes. I used to
visit schools and organise with school liaison officers to knock
on a door at a particular time to demonstrate to kids that an
IP address looks like a telephone number with a series of dots
in between and that can be linked to the address and details.
Therefore, if they are bullying they create a digital record and
at that point the school officer will knock on the door and come
in. You could see certain heads move and hear "Oh!"
That is a powerful way to communicate to them. We are trying to
promote that and raise head teachers' understanding that we can
be part of the solution. When you have young people squabbling
about who said what to whom you can see what they have said. When
you can raise that baseline level of knowledge that has a huge
impact in terms of reducing the misuse of our services, and that
is why we are so committed to those sorts of activities.
Q436 Mr Evans: I believe that Facebook
has an application called Honesty Box where you can send anonymous
messages to somebody. There have been examples of bullying and
even death threats relating to that. Is it right that Bebo and
MySpace do not have that at all and everything that is sent is
Mr Angus: That is correct. 
Q437 Mr Evans: Do you think Facebook
should remove that application? Do you think it is a dangerous
Mr Angus: I am not sure how that
application works or whether on the back end they are able to
track it, so I cannot speak to that technology.
Q438 Chairman: I believe that the
application Mr Evans is talking about means that the recipient
of the message does not know from where it comes. You can certainly
trace from where it emanates if it is threatening, but it raises
an interesting point. The particular application is not developed
by Facebook; it is one that has taken advantage of it. You said
that you allowed others to put up applications associated with
MySpace. What scrutiny do you give to an application before you
allow it to be attached to MySpace?
Mr Angus: We scrutinise every
application before it goes live. The issue is that some applications
may evolve over time and their usage may turn out to be more negative
than positive. Just as we have the ability to report problematic
videos, images and comments for users easily to report those things
and for us to take decisive action, we will remove applications
if they are being abused. We will also deal directly with the
users of the site who are engaging in bullying behaviour.
Q439 Mr Evans: You would not entertain
an application on either of your sites that was anonymous from
sender to receiver?
Mr Angus: As you have described
it I cannot envisage it.
Dr O'Connell: Similarly, we have
to work with those application developers and make sure they understand
that there are codes of practice that need to be adhered to and
to explain it to them. In addition to educating parents, there
are a lot of stakeholders for whom we have a responsibility to
try to educate and reach out. It may not be immediately obvious
to somebody who has developed this. They think this is great and
everyone will love it but you provide them with the really helpful
checklist at the back of the Home Office guidelines and ask them
to tick them and let us know what they adhere to and then talk
them through the whole process. That is also a big part of our
Mr Angus: You have asked about
specific applications, but our settings for younger users do not
allow the sending of messages to them unless they are already
someone's friend. We do not facilitate communication among unknowns
for the under-18 crowd.
6 Note by witness: Upon further review, it has
come to my attention that a third party application called Honesty
Box is available on MySpace.com. It remains correct that everything
that is sent through such an application is completely traceable. Back