A big topic of discussion lately is the increasingly large influence media of all kinds can have in the lives of children and teens. Last week I participated in a conference in New York about this important issue, sponsored by CommonSense Media and The Aspen Institute together with several organizations that have a stake in child safety. (Here are videos of the speakers.)

The conference organizers convened a panel of experts and executives to address the question "Does the Internet Change Everything?" I approached this question by suggesting a framework of four scenarios that characterize the online interactions of children and the content they encounter:
  1. When a child isn't actively seeking objectionable content online, and doesn't encounter any, no action is needed.
  2. When a child isn't seeking objectionable content, but comes across it inadvertently, ISPs and other online services, like Google, and child safety organizations can provide tools and resources to help families effectively monitor their child's online interactions.
  3. When a child is actively seeking out objectionable content online and finds it, parents are primarily responsible for devising a solution.
  4. When a child isn't seeking out objectionable content, but someone deliberately forces such content on them, this amounts to exploitation -- and requires government involvement and cooperation by ISPs and other online services.
So that you can see the types of things we're doing to promote safer online interactions, I've mapped some of Google's activities in this critical area of child safety online to these scenarios -- particularly 2 and 4, where we feel we can make the greatest difference.

In connection with the second scenario, we have invested in developing family safety technology and tools, including SafeSearch, a filter that uses advanced technology to block pornographic and explicit content from Google search results. We've also partnered with child safety organizations to educate families about ways to use the Internet and other types of media safely. These efforts include joining forces with CommonSense Media to provide their movie reviews in Google search results to assist parents in identifying healthy content. We also work with organizations like i-Safe and iKeepSafe to provide online public service announcements that promote access to resources about Internet safety.

When the fourth scenario occurs, we work closely with law enforcement officials worldwide to identify, investigate and prosecute child pornography and exploitation. We remove child pornography immediately when we become aware of its presence on our search engine or content services, and report all instances of child pornography to law enforcement through the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC. We also respond to hundreds of child safety-related law enforcement requests each year, in addition to requests to preserve data related to these cases. Lastly, we donate hardware and software to improve NCMEC's ability to manage incoming reports of child exploitation and assist NCMEC in promoting its CyberTipline, a resource for reporting cases of online child sexual exploitation.

Keeping kids safe on the Internet is a huge task -- bigger than any single government, company or family. We're pleased to work with our industry partners, law enforcement and child safety advocates around the world (including the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK and the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Multimedia (FSM) in Germany) to address this issue.

As we develop new initiatives in this critical arena, we'll keep you posted.