On the face of it, David Cameron’s announcement today about an adult content filter that households have to opt out of seems like a good idea. But beneath the surface, does something darker lie behind the plans?
Those of you who know me personally will know that I’m not a conspiracy theorist, far from it. In fact, I’m normally the boring realist in most conversations. Why does this matter? Well, in a subject this controversial and wide-ranging there are bound to be conspiracy theories. Some of my arguments against a blanket ban will possibly be dismissed as such, but if you think about the reasons behind them you should see the logic in the arguments.
“…in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.”
Sure – there certainly are. Anyone who’s spent any time online will know there is some really vile stuff on the internet. I would bet £10 that even if you’ve never actively searched for adult material, you’ve come across something that you didn’t expect to see at some point in your internet browsing past.
According to this article, which is over 1 year old, 30% of all the traffic on the internet is pornography. So you can make a fairly logical assumption that as the number of pornographic sites increases on a monthly basis, that traffic figure is probably on the low side now.
So with all this porn floating around, and the ease of finding it – whether on purpose or by accident – why shouldn’t we have a blanket filter that people opt-in to?
1. Censorship is generally a bad thing
Think about it. North Korea, China, Syria.
Just a few of the many countries that, either now or in the past, have controlled their population by censorship of mass media. China currently has the ‘Great Firewall of China‘ which severely restricts access for the Chinese population to any sites that may criticise their regime or human rights records.
“Ah, but our government is democratically elected”
Yes, they are. But the recent PRISM disclosure has shown to what extent they are happy to spy on ordinary people’s private business. Once the investment has been made into filtering and monitoring technology, what’s to stop them blocking access to any other sites they don’t want us to see?
Also, the technology and laws are likely to persist across governments, so if a less than scrupulous Prime Minister is elected they will have a powerful propaganda tool at their disposal.
2. The technology aspect- how will they do it?
At the moment, the ‘big 4‘ internet providers have gotten (slightly grudgingly) behind Mr Cameron and have announced they will provide filtering of the internet. Anyone who has accessed a website hosted in China will know that they are either slow, or very slow!
This is mainly due to the filtering that is occuring on all of their internet traffic.
One major concern I have is how will the internet providers implement this filtering without affecting the internet speeds we currently have?
We already lag behind many countries in terms of our broadband speeds, especially in rural areas. Do we really want it running even slower?
3. Mis-categorisation of sites
My mobile phone, from Orange, used to have an adult content filter enabled on it. At least once a week I would be blocked from accessing a site that I needed to find information from for business purposes. I ended up phoning Orange to turn it off – which I imagine feels a bit like phoning the hotel reception and asking them for access to the porn channels!
What I’m getting at is, in Orange’s case, their detection of adult content was suspect at best. If the government’s system isn’t top notch, then a lot of people will end up turning it off as it blocks access to sites they need or want to use. Once it’s turned off, the protection for all devices connected to that internet supply will be stopped, rendering it useless.
Also, when you ask to be removed, your details will be logged on a list of people who want access to the ‘dark side’ – which may not be what you want.
This kind of blanket censorship has a strong possibility of breeding complacency. If parents assume their children are protected then they may take less interest in their general internet use, which could lead to situations like children being groomed via (presumably allowed) sites such as Bebo and Facebook.
So, Craig, what’s the alternative suggestion?
My stance is simple. Parents should take a stronger responsibility in their children’s internet usage, including using content filtering. Filtering itself isn’t a bad thing, but what you want is a combined approach.
Running your own internet filtering has some other benefits. You can view logs, to see what your children or teenagers are trying to access, giving you meaningful information to talk to them about. You can also set-up varying levels of filtering, meaning you can allow the adults full access to the internet, teenagers access to sex education & contraception, and have tighter controls for your younger family members.
Combine this with a healthy, but not intrusive, interest in your children’s web based activities and you’ll be in a position at least as good as you would be with the ‘blanket filtering’ approach, and most probably much better.
Here’s hoping they don’t censor me! Let me know your thoughts below…