Google Execs Oppose U.K. Porn Filtering

May 23, 2012 7:30 AM PST

HERTFORDSHIRE, England — Google executives believe that forcing U.K. users to opt-in to access porn would be a mistake.

Speaking at the company’s second Big Tent debate, the company took a stand against private ISPs and the government deciding what websites should be deemed appropriate and what can be viewed.

A controversy has been building over the last few weeks as conservative members of parliament are calling for the government to force mandatory filtering of porn to protect children.

As a result of a cross-parliamentary inquiry, Prime Minister David Cameron said recently that he will investigate the possibility of filtering and is reportedly now meeting with ISPs.

TalkTalk, a major U.K. ISP took it upon itself to step up its support for filtering by making new and existing customers choose whether they want its already available Homesafe filter installed.

But Google feels that letting software companies — and lawmakers for that matter — decide what users can access opens a can of worms.

Sarah Hunter, Google's head of public policy, said the search giant was strongly in favor of education over technical measures. “We believe that children shouldn't be seeing pornography online. We disagree on the mechanisms. It's not that easy," she said.

Hunter also made her plea for parental control.

"There is a problem about the extent to which we deskill parents by giving them simple solutions. We should be making more effort than we've done in the past to make sure parents really do know the risks children face online," she added.

When asked by the panel moderator about the censorship of porn and what measures the government should take, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said, “Each country makes a different decision on adult pornography, but the good news is that even governments you hate, hate child pornography."

“What I worry about is that such laws are often slippery slopes, such a law has to be defined very precisely and technical can be implemented. In many other countries adult pornography legislation is an attempt to legislate something else.”

Schmidt went on to say that Google’s role is to supply information and not judge how government’s deal with porn.

“We care a lot about openness, to the extent that governments are more open and honest we think that's positive,” Schmidt said.

Hunter stressed that unregulated third-party software companies that could supply the filtering may not be the best arbiters of what people can access in their homes.

"When you have companies making decisions for what is or isn't appropriate for children it's difficult," she said.

"If we pretend all families are the same, we get into very difficult territory."

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