PUBLISHED: 18:08 EST, 23 May 2012 | UPDATED: 18:08 EST, 23 May 2012
A google executive claimed yesterday to have ‘no idea’ how much money the search giant makes from advertising alongside online pornography which can be viewed by children.
Sarah Hunter, head of UK public policy for the company, pleaded ignorance during a debate hosted by Google on whether to block porn on the internet to protect youngsters.
A spokesman for the firm later said: ‘We do not break out our revenues for any area.’
But it is clear that Google makes thousands of pounds per day from paid-for advertising alongside search results after a user keys in a word such as ‘porn’ on the British site.
Google’s own AdWords programme, designed to help advertisers work out how much it will cost to buy the top advert next to a key word such as porn, indicates it will cost as much as £8,000 a day.
Adverts further down the list cost less, but Google’s British profits would clearly run to thousands from ads placed next to every word associated with pornography. Worldwide profits would be far more.
Mrs Hunter told the Google Big Tent media event yesterday in Hertfordshire that the responsibility for protecting children from pornography on the internet lies solely with parents.
Her comments fly in the face of a Daily Mail campaign to protect children by blocking internet porn from computers unless an adult user specifically opts in and elects to see the content.
Google has nearly total domination of the search engine market and is in a position to filter out adult content for all searches, but it refuses to do so as it insists it is a parental responsibility.
Campaigners suggested one reason for Google’s insistence that children’s internet use is the responsibility of their parents is the amount of money the search giant makes from porn advertising.
Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell argued that the internet was ‘full of the most debasing sado-masochistic pornography that no child should ever see’ and said an opt-in policy was the best option.
But Mrs Hunter, a former adviser to Tony Blair on media issues, warned that legislation to filter pornography on the internet was a ‘mistake, absolutely’.
BIG BROTHER THREAT
CONCERNS over Google’s creeping intrusion into private life were heightened yesterday when its executive chairman said it would like to know even more about its customers.
Eric Schmidt told the Big Tent event that knowing who users’ friends were and what they cared about would improve its services.
‘Don’t you think that Google search – with your permission, I need to say very precisely – will do a better job if we have more information that singles you out – who you are, what you care about – in terms of search results?’ he asked.
His words will strike a sinister note for civil liberties campaigners who already believe that Google harvests too much information about its users. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘Sadly it is impossible for the average person to figure out what data Google is collecting and how it is being used, a problem exacerbated by the company’s pursuit of combining data from across its services.
‘As far as companies like Google are concerned, you and I are not their customers, we are their product.’
Asked about the amount of money pornography brings in for Google, which makes almost all of its profits through advertising, Mrs Hunter said: ‘I have no idea. We don’t go out of our way to make money from pornography.
‘Like all search engines, we do allow advertisers to place adverts alongside searches that show adult content.
‘But it’s legal. Let’s just be clear. I don’t see the problem with that as long as we put in place sufficient safeguards, as much as we can, for children.’
The event, at the five-star Grove Hotel, was hosted by Channel 4 figures and free copies of the Guardian were handed out.
The Google spokesman added: ‘Like other search engines, our policies allow ads to appear next to search results that contain links to legal pornography.
‘We also place ads on other people’s web pages but not on pornographic sites.
‘We understand that some people don’t want to see this material, or have their kids stumble upon it.
‘Google’s Safe Search screens for adult websites and advertising and removes them from search results.’