Google defends online safety role after fine over children’s privacy

Google chief visits Dublin to announce €1 million grant for charity Barnardos

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at St Patrick’s Girls’ National School in Ringsend, Dublin with pupils Naomi Duffy (left) and Sophie Browne. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at St Patrick’s Girls’ National School in Ringsend, Dublin with pupils Naomi Duffy (left) and Sophie Browne. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Google has defended its involvement in an internet safety initiative for children just weeks after it was fined $170 million (€154 million) over alleged violations of children’s privacy in the United States.

Chief executive Sundar Pichai visited Dublin on Wednesday to announce a €1 million grant for Barnardos to help the charity enable thousands of children in Ireland to “interact safely and responsibly” online.

Google also unveiled a Be Internet Legends programme, designed to provide online safety resources to parents, children and teachers who are unable to access the Barnardos programme in person, or who feel that they need further support.

Last month, Google agreed to pay a record fine and make changes to protect children’s privacy on YouTube after regulators said the video site had “knowingly and illegally” harvested personal information from children and used it to profit by targeting them with advertisements.

US regulators said YouTube, which is owned by Google, had illegally gathered children’s data – including identification codes used to track web browsing over time – without their parents’ consent.

Stuart McLaughlin, head of Google.org – the philanthropic arm of Google – in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, defended the company’s involvement with Barnardos to boost protect children’s online privacy.

He said the company had acknowledged at the time of the settlement that nothing was more important than protecting children and it had made sweeping changes.

‘Fundamentally important’

Mr McLaughlin said: “To sort of say therefore you shouldn’t act on that would be foolish – if anything, its the very reason we should act.

“Although I work for the philanthropic arm of Google, those things [privacy] are fundamentally important to us. As a Google employee and a parent, privacy is a huge focus for us . . . it always has been, it’s always evolving and changing, and we’re always pushing to make our products as perfect for all users as possible.”

Minister for Education Joe McHugh attended the launch of the initiative. It involves a four-year education programme and will be rolled out in schools across the country, reaching about 75,000 students overall.

Speaking at the launch, Sundar Pichai said: “Through programmes such as our Be Internet Legends effort, we are empowering young people to be safe explorers of our digital world. We’re proud to be working with Barnardos to bring online safety education to more young people in Ireland.”