There are conflicting accounts about the origins of Google’s de facto motto. Some say that Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail, came up with it at a meeting about “corporate values” in 2000. Others ascribe the phrase to Amit Patel, a Google engineer, a year earlier. Either way, the slogan “don’t be evil” came to symbolise the freethinking freshness of the company.
Many people, however, see the motto in a more ironic light. There are widespread concerns about Google’s commitment to things like paying tax and combating child porn, which have seriously damaged the image of the corporation.
Google’s tax arrangements remain a moot point. Now, however, following a wave of intense pressure sparked by the murders of April Jones and Tia Sharpe, the company has announced that it is taking steps to address the evil of child pornography that lurks in the darker corners of the internet.
As the Sunday Telegraph reported, Google is “setting up a 1.27 million ($2 million) fund available to independent software developers to produce new tools to combat child pornography”, and “working on new technology” which will “allow child porn images which have already been ‘flagged’ by child protection organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to be wiped from the web in one fell swoop”.
This can only be good news. My colleague, Willard Foxton, maintains that the worst images of child rape can be found in obscure areas of the internet over which Google does not have dominion. It seems, however, that a lot of nasty material is available through Google, and this may lead a user through the wormhole to the dark side. If Google are able to address this problem, it will certainly be acting more in accordance with its motto.
More problematic is the announcement by Claire Perry MP, David Cameron’s special adviser on preventing the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, that from 2014 a blanket restriction will be placed on access to pornography online.
This has nothing to do with child rape. The measures are intended to prevent children against exposure to legal pornographic images, and as such seem like something of a blunt instrument.
I have argued before that proposals for having a default block on pornographic material, which requires that the user “opt in” to viewing adult content, is a good idea. Under Claire Perry’s system, however, the system will “reset” itself at seven o’clock each morning. This means that if a responsible, adult web user opts to have the restrictions on pornography lifted from his computer in the evening, the ban will have been automatically reinstated come morning.
This seems like a step too far. Some may believe that viewing pornography is inherently loathsome. But this is a personal view and should not inform such draconian measures. Blocking pornography as standard is a necessary step to combat the sexualisation of our children, but users should be asked to “opt-in” on a monthly basis, not every single day.
As for images of child rape, however, a zero tolerance approach is demanded. The public outcry has reached fever pitch, and this may have forced Google’s hand. Nevertheless, Google’s renewed efforts to tackle child pornography suggest that the corporation may be less evil than we had thought.
This post originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph.
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