Google Voices Concern Over The Government's Mandatory Internet Filter

There have been countless logical arguments against the mandatory internet filter being pushed on us by the Rudd government, but few of them have had the serious weight behind them that Google does. And now Google has joined forces with Yahoo!, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and the Inspire Foundation to propose some core principles for a safer internet (without Government filtering), as well as publishing their submission to the Government's consultation process.

Unsurprisingly, they don't actually agree with the Government's plans. From their submission:

"Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide. At Google we have a bias in favour of people's right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.

Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material, which is illegal in almost every country, and we filter out this content from our search results and remove it from our products. But moving to a mandatory ISP level filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.

That sounds all well and good, but what about concerns over filtering YouTube. Where does Google stand there?

Furthermore, the filtering of material from high-volume sites (for example Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) appears to not be technologically possible, as it would have such a serious impact on Internet access. There appears to be an expectation that such sites would voluntarily agree to remove or locally block all content judged to be RC under the Government's proposed system.

We believe it is important to clearly state our view on this issue. YouTube is a platform for free expression. We have clear policies about what is allowed and not allowed on the site. For example, we do not permit hate speech or sexually explicit material, and all videos uploaded must comply with our Community Guidelines. Like all law-abiding companies, YouTube complies with the laws in the countries in which we operate. When we receive a valid legal request like a court order to remove content alleged to violate local laws, we first check that the request complies with the law, and we will seek to narrow it if the request is overly broad. Beyond these clearly defined parameters, we will not remove material from YouTube.

In other words, they'll obey the law, but they won't self-censor. Thankfully.

Meanwhile, in their joint statement with ALIA, Yahoo! and the Inspire foundation, they lay a proposal at the feet of Senator Conroy to make the internet safer without resorting to foolhardy ISP level filtering:

According to a large body of peer-reviewed research on the matter the most effective way to protect our children on the internet is achieved by adopting a strategy containing the following three Core Principles: o Education: Properly funding a national comprehensive cyber-safety education program for children and parents on how to avoid inappropriate material and stay safe online. If any element of online safety is to be mandatory, it should be education. o Policing: Significantly increasing and funding the level of oversight by the government and federal police focused on the locations, such peer-to-peer, where child sexual abuse materials are disseminated. o Technical Measures: If the government and the broader political system are determined to implement technical measures as part of online safety efforts, then we believe Australia can learn from the approaches adopted in peer countries, particularly in Europe. The strong consensus internationally is for ISPs, police and government to work together in partnership targeting a clearly defined and narrow band of child sexual abuse material. o Under this filtering regime:  there would be little to no impact on the internet‟s performance or greatly increased costs to users;  there would be an environment in which adults are able to choose whether to have their service filtered or not.

You can read the entire statement here (PDF), plus Google's submission here (PDF). No matter what happens though, it's good to know that such an influential player in the online space has stood up and let both the public and the government know where they stand on a controversial issue.

[Google AU Blog]

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