Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

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 organisations?

  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. [7]

  Mr Angus: For us I believe that globally there are approximately 50 on a monthly basis. [8]

  Q449 Helen Southworth: Let us have the UK figures. When will you have a one click report process of suspected exploitation?

  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 UK.

  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 and efficiently.

  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 it—that it is scary to report to the police directly—and give people a number of options.

  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

8   Ibid Back

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