In August this year, Google received 35,191 complaints from users across India, as per its latest YouTube Transparency Report. Based on that, 93,550 pieces of content or information were removed. Further, 6,51,933 pieces of content were removed post automatic detection through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Over the years, the technology company seems to have ramped up its ability to detect fraudulent, abusive, egregious content. As users spend more time online, safety has been a key area of concern, especially that of children. The company claims to be proactively scanning its platforms for potential child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and abusive content so that it can be removed.
In a conversation with Financial Express Online’s Anushree Bhattacharyya, Sanjay Gupta, country head and vice president, Google India, talks about the importance of creating a digitally safe environment both for users and brands. (Edited excerpts)
Due to the pandemic, all work has been moved online right from attending classes to creating and executing business solutions. Why is it important to create a safer Internet?
In the past 12-18 months, two big changes have occurred. Firstly, for the first time, children have begun to use the Internet more because parents have asked them to. From learning dance online to music, so on and so forth, all activities have moved online. This is a big shift from pre-pandemic times when children were given restricted access to the Internet. The next big change has taken place in the space of payments. Prior to the pandemic, it was a luxury and not a necessity. We have close to three billion transactions every month, likely to become 30 billion over the next 12-24 months.
Even as the number of people using the Internet in India remains small at 30-35%, I think it will accelerate to 50-60% very quickly. Unlike China which took a decade to move from 30% to 70%, we will move faster, partly because of Covid-19. Hence, safety on the Internet has become the most important thing not only to us at Google but to everyone in society. Therefore the necessity for safety has gone up. Hence, the most important thing is to improve awareness around safety.
Online has become a part of our core lives. So, safety on the Internet for everyone has become very important. In my mind, there are three questions people are asking about safety – are my children safe? Is my money safe? Am I safe? The third question is asked by more evolved users.
What are the steps taken by Google to ensure safety and privacy for users especially when it has a lot of direct to consumer (D2C) products such as YouTube?
Firstly, the control has to be with users in terms of what they do and as a result what shows up. For example, do I want to tell you about myself or should my location be known? If you look at the Google products now, there is an icon that shows my account wherein you can see what all settings you want to control as a user. We are giving minors more control over their digital footprint by enabling anyone under the age of 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their images from Google Image results. We are introducing a number of changes to Google Accounts for people under 18. On YouTube, we’re defaulting the upload setting to the most private option available for users between the age of 13-17 years; we have turned on SafeSearch for existing users under the age of 18 and are making this the default setting for teens setting up new accounts. We have also ensured that Location History remains off without the option to turn it on for users under 18 years.
Secondly, we have in-built security checks in everything such as emails, in the content on a phone with Android and Chrome. Across our products and services, we see millions of consumers with fraudulent information and data. We are launching a new safety section on Google Play for apps that follow our Families policy; and making it easier for administrators to tailor experiences for their users based on age using Google Workspace for Education. The second big step taken has been to keep devices besides our products and consumers safe.
The third area is to enable the removal of harmful content. We issue a transparency report on content on the Internet this includes platforms such as YouTube besides user complaints among others. We have beefed up our response time to act on a complaint. We have a team of people who figure out the quality of content through technology and via the moderation of people. While this is never going to go away, we are putting enough effort into making sure that we are fighting against it.
That’s the consumer side, how do you manage privacy and safety on the advertising side?
With the help of technology, we can ensure that the right ads get shown to people. What is also important is that users provide the right information such as the age reflected in accounts that need to be correct. I think having the right information, which is captured in the account, is critical to solving problems. This is an area that will require a lot of maturity, education and understanding for it to work really well.
On advertising, we’re expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens and blocking ad targeting based on the age, gender or interests of people under the age of 18 years. We are taking steps towards blocking ad targeting on the basis of age, gender or interest of people who are underage.
How do you ensure that brands also work towards creating a consumer safe world on digital?
We actually started our journey with the industry as we worked with multiple industrial bodies and brands on multiple fronts. Firstly, we have started to educate brands on how to start collecting first-party data as cookies phase-out. Brands need to start building their own infrastructure around first-party data which is privacy safe. The second thing is from a safety perspective we are also open to sharing our content KPIs with the industry to help them.
Considering India has multiple languages, how do you plan to ramp up safety in languages?
Google Safety Centre already has eight languages and we are beefing it up by three more and making it 11 by the end of this year. Our aim is to ensure that the information that the people want to see is available in their local language. For us, keeping this trajectory of investing behind languages is the most important thing. Our intention is to get to 22 languages in India over the next few quarters.
How do you plan to address the concern that tech giants like Google not only have access to user data but can also map the digital footprint?
The real issue is, as a user do you manage what you want to show to the world really well, and who is allowed to track you. We announced sometime back that Cookies will end, this is a step to ensure that users safety comes before. We are looking at using data and information at an aggregate level rather than an individual level. Fundamentally, it’s all about saying, we don’t need to know each person. We need to know a cohort of people, even then if you want to talk to them you can talk to them but privacy has to be absolutely paramount. But, for this, people need to take charge of their accounts and I think we’re making it very easy for people to determine what they want to show or not show.
When you roll out a campaign, what’s the approach you take?
We are trying to talk to the mass. We are targeting children very specifically with what we are doing with the “Be Internet Awesome” program. Second, we’re saying, make people aware of simple things, which are well known and this is where the “Safer With Google” mass campaign comes in. Through the campaign, we are talking to people who are either on the Internet today or will be there tomorrow. So our approach is mass and direct besides allowing people to understand and learn about this. Even if you see the Google Pay campaign for payments, it says ‘Jaldi Karenge, Jaldbaazi Nahi’.
Voice is touted to be the next big space for marketers. How do you ensure this will remain a safe place, especially with the rise of connected devices?
Voice is going to be really big over time because it’s difficult to type in every Indian language on a mobile phone. Voice will become the easiest method to access, browse content. The good thing from a safety features aspect, whatever we are doing for video and text, the same safety features are applied to voice. This is largely due to the fact that content is being shared among users. We’re seeing a very significant uptick in using voice as a way to search and use.
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