Internet Companies

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 5th September 2013.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 9:30 am, 5th September 2013

What steps have internet companies taken in response to the meeting with Ministers on 18 June 2013.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I called the summit to explore, with industry, the Internet Watch Foundation and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre further actions to remove child abuse material from the internet. A zero-tolerance approach was agreed, and good progress is being made across a number of measures. That will see a real change in the way this issue is dealt with in the UK.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but will she be a bit more specific and say what steps have been taken to put age verification in place at the level of filters of browsers, to prevent children from viewing indecent material?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The matter that the hon. Lady raises is slightly different from the one I was talking about, which was the measures we are putting in place to deal with illegal content. Such measures include: a more proactive approach for the IWF; splash pages; and considering further ways in which technology can be used to do more in the area. She is right to raise the matter, because we are also doing a great deal to tackle harmful material that is on the internet, including on access by people who are under 18. The providers are working, in particular, to put in place network-level filtering to make sure that customers access only age-specific material. Those changes are being put in place now, not just for new customers, but for existing customers.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

This is indeed a serious matter. The Secretary of State speaks of harmful material. Does she think that a similar approach involving CEOP would prove fruitful in dealing with websites that contain material inciting people to take their own lives?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to ensure that we tackle such problems, whether they involve bullying online or inciting people to take their own lives. We are working directly with ISPs and with those who have websites to ensure that there is more moderation and that there are opportunities to turn off anonymous postings. Those are the practical measures that can be put in place to help people have safer access to the internet.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Since we last met, we have seen the National Audit Office’s devastating report on the Government’s failure on broadband, which is extremely important to many people, but I am not going to ask the Government about that—[Laughter.] No, I am not, because also since we last met two children have taken their own lives following cyber-bullying; that is also a matter of extreme concern to people in this country. I have arranged to see the Latvian ambassador to discuss whether ask.fm is co-operating properly with the police. The Government did not even mention social media in their summit conclusions or their communications paper. Why does not the Secretary of State put a legal obligation on social media sites to tackle cyber-bullying?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady needs to be very careful with what she is talking about. We are absolutely taking action on cyber-bullying. There is already guidance in place to help schools and to help children understand cyber-bullying more effectively. It is clear not just from what I am saying but from what the Prime Minister has said that it is absolutely unacceptable to have such abuse online. I am pleased to say that ask.fm has taken the problem very seriously and put in place more robust reporting mechanisms, increased moderation on the site, and given people the opportunity to turn off anonymous postings. Those are the sort of practical changes that can make websites safer for young people to use, but ultimately we must ensure that parents work with their children, too.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The Secretary of State has taken significant steps to protect children online, and the introduction of ISP-level filtering is a significant move. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate is far more complicated, however, than simply switching the filter on or off? Software developers have a significant responsibility and parents must ultimately be responsible, but does the Secretary of State agree that schools have a part to play by updating their sex education lessons and curriculum to ensure that people understand the greatest risks?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and he is right: we are at the forefront of online safety. It is not just me saying that; the Family Online Safety Institute says it, too. It is really important that we acknowledge that not only ISPs and people who have websites should take these matters seriously. As he said, parents and schools should take their role seriously, too.