Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-451)|
29 APRIL 2008
Q440 Mr Sanders: Dr O'Connell, earlier
you alluded to your respect and praise for the Home Secretary's
task force. Why do you think it is that Dr Byron in her recent
report proposes a new UK council for child internet safety to
replace the Home Secretary's task force?
Dr O'Connell: I spent a lot of
time with Dr Byron during her deliberations with various people.
In my home country, Ireland, we have the Internet Advisory Board
which is very similar to the Home Office Internet Task Force.
I had the privilege of sitting on that board when it started way
back in 1997 or 1998 just after a big case involving child pornography.
The advisory board was convened with a view to seeing what we
had to do to change our legislation. At the time it was not illegal
to possess child pornography in Ireland. After a number of years
we realised that that body should have dedicated civil servants,
a budget and proper standing just like the UK council. That has
recently gone into effect and it is now called the Internet Safety
Office. Similarly, I think there would be a lot of advantage in
terms of having a dedicated UK council. I do not think it is to
replace something but to build upon the amazing work that has
already been done. I imagine the structure and process of arriving
at these good practice recommendations will be very similar; it
just gives it a firmer standing.
Q441 Mr Sanders: What difference
do you think it will make?
Dr O'Connell: I think that in
terms of transparency it will facilitate industry communicating
more effectively with the wider public, the media, MPs and various
stakeholders what it is we are doing, how the recommendations
have been arrived at and how various companies have implemented
them. It brings together a greater level of transparency and facilitates
avenues of communication between those stakeholders who need to
know what is going on, who is being responsible and what measures
we have put in place to mitigate risk. I think that with a properly
resourced and funded UK council we can achieve that. It is a natural
progression; it is an evolution which is to be welcomed.
Mr Angus: I think that the more
people, organisations and perspectives involved the better answers
we will have for how to tackle all of these safety issues, whether
it is feature sets or education. We all have safety education
pieces on our sites but not everyone has access. We have to make
sure that this digital education of everyone, whether it is teachers,
law enforcement or parents, comes from multiple points. We have
to keep repeating this information. It should come from parents,
educators and should be available online. We engage in prolific
public service announcement campaigns on television. Printed materials
and a guide are provided to educators so that if they cannot access
the information online and want to read about it and consult it
when a child comes to them they can do so. We also have one for
parents that explains to them if they are not computer literate
what social networking is about, how it works, how they should
talk to their children about it and what they should be concerned
about. The more ways we try to reach people the better and we
need to provide them with resources as well. We have a parent
and dedicated laws enforcement hotline that is staffed 24/7 so
that when these issues arise and people have urgent needs they
are able to connect with someone.
Q442 Helen Southworth: Is there a
UK number for that?
Mr Angus: We are working on a
UK number right now. We have one in the US and we are in active
discussion as to how to roll that out. That would be a separate
line item in our budget.
Q443 Mr Sanders: MySpace is a member
of the Home Secretary's task force. Do you assume that you will
automatically be members of the UK Council for Child Internet
Safety, and what do you see as the difference between the two
Mr Angus: We would certainly hope
to participate. We are also participating in the European Commission
task force on internet safety and social networking. These different
organisations give us another forum to continue to discuss. One
of the benefits I have seen over the past week in engaging with
industry members is that it is helpful for us to come together
to share our success stories, our failures and our questions so
we can approach this together. None of us competes on safety;
it is something for which we share responsibility. We share the
aspirational goal to make the Internet safer for all of our users.
Dr O'Connell: I agree with that.
A lot of the work that we have been doing for the past few months
is to reach out to various organisations that provide emotional
support, social care and mental health resources, saying to them
that the demographic they are trying to reach is on a site like
Bebo, MySpace and other sites. One of the offers we make to them
is they should use this platform in such a way that their services
are easily accessible to young people, so again it is not simply
about being reactive in education; it is also about proactively
harnessing the capabilities of these technologies so that you
make available the services that young people need. We have a
close working relationship, as you do, with NSPCC and Childline.
To have just a click away and readily accessible the sorts of
resources that a teenager needs and the areas of help that he
or she may be looking for reduces the vulnerability when the support
and help is provided in a timely fashion.
Q444 Helen Southworth: I am after
a statistic. How many reports of suspected abuse in the UK have
you received in the past 12 months and how many of those have
you forwarded to CEOP?
Mr Angus: We receive approximately
3,600 abuse complaints a month. That is a broad range. We forward
the appropriate ones. I do not have the specific statistic.
Q445 Chairman: Is that a UK figure?
Mr Angus: Yes, I believe it is.
Q446 Helen Southworth: Can you let
us have those?
Mr Angus: Yes.
Dr O'Connell: I need to get the
breakdown for the UK. We have 40 million users worldwide and receive
about 3,000 reports of abuse per day. In any one week the number
of reports we send to CEOP directly that are UK-related can vary
between none in one week up to six or seven in another week.
Q447 Helen Southworth: In terms of
your reports of abuse, are these cases of suspected exploitation?
Dr O'Connell: No.
Q448 Helen Southworth: Can you say
how many reports of suspected exploitation you receive and how
many you forward?
Dr O'Connell: We can. 
Mr Angus: For us I believe that
globally there are approximately 50 on a monthly basis. 
Q449 Helen Southworth: Let us have the
UK figures. When will you have a one click report process of suspected
Mr Angus: We allow them to report.
I am not sure what you mean by "one click".
Q450 Helen Southworth: Microsoft
Messenger has implemented one in the UK with CEOP which allows
a direct report through and it can be triaged by the centre which
can allocate it to NSPCC or to direct police intervention if there
is suspected abuse that needs immediate interaction. That process
allows an assessment to be made by specialists with child protection
orientation to ensure that if there is a child at risk it can
have immediate access to protection. That is a one click access
process direct from the screen to the specialists at the Child
Exploitation and Online Protection centre. I am wondering when
your services will be able to provide that for children in the
Mr Angus: We are constantly evaluating
how our reporting mechanism works. I think the measure of success
for us is effectiveness. Whether it is one click or two, our users
are taught and educated to go to our safety page when they have
a safety-related issue and if it is urgent and requires that level
of activity they are directed to CEOP and can make that report.
We believe that that works for users quite well and enables them
to report those things to CEOP and also to report the things they
need to report to us so we can also deal with them as effectively
Dr O'Connell: What has come out
of our conversation here is that sometimes it can be daunting
to make a report to the police. That has been the subject of our
deliberations in the Home Office Internet Task Force in relation
to recommendations. You can click "Report abuse" and
then you get the option to file a police report. We are working
with CEOP and hope that there will be simultaneous reporting very
soon. According to the recommendation of the Home Office Internet
Task Force you have to give people alternative ways to report.
The reason I think simultaneous reporting is very important is
that from an evidential point of view when we get the report we
can freeze those accounts and those people cannot access them.
Evidentially, you have preserved the information on the server.
I think we have to take into account all of the variable factors
and understand the psychology behind itthat it is scary
to report to the police directlyand give people a number
Q451 Mr Evans: It is good to hear
that you are all working together to defeat the abuse of children
online. I have not seen your pack that teachers can use. Do you
think it might also be useful if you got together and devised
some posters for schools, one aimed at primary and one at secondary,
so that every time you went into a school you would see the message
so youngsters could learn how to protect themselves online? When
we visit schools in the next few months we hope to be able to
see them there perhaps in every classroom.
Dr O'Connell: That is an excellent
suggestion. We have started the Teach Today website and its first
iteration was launched just a week or two ago. All of these companies
are coming together again for the next iteration. I think that
is a very good idea.
Chairman: I thank both of you very much.
7 Supplied in confidence Back