Parents are to blame if children view pornography online, an executive of Google has said.
Naomi Gummer, a public policy analyst at the internet giant, said it was a “myth” that laws can prevent children from viewing explicit material, because the pace of technological development would render legislation a “blunt instrument”.
MPs are calling on the Government to introduce an ‘opt-in’ system which would mean users would be automatically excluded from accessing internet pornography unless they specifically indicated they wanted to view them.
But Miss Gummer said many parents are “complicit” in allowing their children to view social networking sites despite being too young and only a minority of children had been “upset” by what they had seen online.
She told a conference of child welfare experts: “The idea that laws can adequately protect young people is a myth. Technology is moving so fast that legislation is a blunt tool for addressing these challenges.
“But also the truth is that parents are complicit in their kids using underage social networking sites. It is about education, not using legislative leavers.”
Miss Gummer, 28, the daughter of peer and Conservative Party donor Lord Chadlington, said the extent of sexual content online was exaggerated.
“Twenty-five per cent of kids have seen sexual images, but only 14 per cent saw them online,” she said. “Of that, 4 per cent say they were upset by the images, 2 per cent of those images are hard-core and violent and the rest is nudity in the same way as perhaps seen in the offline world.”
Miss Gummer previously worked as a parliamentary assistant in the office of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, before taking a post in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. She is engaged to Henry Allsopp, the brother of television presenter Kirsty.
Her uncle is former Conservative agriculture secretary John Gummer.
A cross-party group of MPs said internet firms have a responsibility to ensure that children are unable to access inappropriate content online, including websites promoting self harm and extreme violence, but that current efforts were “inadequate”.
A parliamentary inquiry heard evidence from children’s charities, academics, religious groups, and industry experts, and concluded that many parents lack the technical know-how to control their children’s browsing themselves.
As well as new powers for the Government to intervene if providers do not do anything to restrict access, their report recommended that an existing scheme to give parents an “active choice” over whether to block pornography from their broadband line should be urgently reviewed.
Fiona Mactaggart MP, who helped draw up the proposals, told the Daily Mail: “Internet companies make so much money out of online pornography that it is not surprising that they would say this.
“They can’t argue that their industry should uniquely rest outside regulation for the public good. I accept it is not the whole answer, but you can’t say we’re not going to use one of the most powerful tools in the box just because the big players don’t like it.”