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6 experts and 3 parents have answered

expert answer
James Diamond expert
James Diamond E-Safety & Safeguarding Trainer Leicester, GB
E-safety expert

This week, the British Government announced plans to ensure that online pornography will be blocked unless the account holder opts out of the proposed filters. On the surface this is a perfectly sensible reaction to the growing concerns about children’s access to online pornography. Children are currently able to bypass age restrictions placed on legal pornography by going online but, surprisingly, the recent EU Kid Online study found that only 14% of 9-16 year-olds had viewed sexual images online in the last 12 months.

The Government proposes that the four main Internet Service Providers in the UK (Virgin, BT, Sky, and Talk Talk, who currently hold 90% of the UK market share) will enable internet filters for all customers by the end of next year, and that these filters will be applied by default. We are assured that only the account holders will be able to deactivate the filters, and that there is no way our increasingly technologically literate children will be able to bypass them. I see a few problems with this admittedly noble approach.

These filters may lead to complacency on the part of many parents regarding the topic of Internet Safety. There was a worryingly simplistic soundbite in David Cameron’s speech which claimed that the idea of the scheme was ‘one click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe’, which could give parents a false sense of security. It is important to stress that the dangers to children online are far more complex than the potential viewing of adult websites.

Despite the Government’s assurances to the contrary, experts also believe that vital and legitimate sexual and mental health sites, such as TheSite.org, may be blocked by these filters. The Government’s confidence in children not finding a way around the blocks is also a little naïve, and may in fact push some children into exploring unregulated areas of the ‘dark web’ in their quest to find sexual images.

Anything that makes it easier to filter the content that children can see online should be applauded, and I have no doubt that these proposals will make a small difference. However, the majority of online risks to children come from their behaviour, and the behaviour of others, on legal social media and gaming sites. Education of young people, and prosecution of the criminals targeting children, are essential in order to tackle the problem.

3 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Rob Zidar expert
Rob Zidar Co-Founder, ThirdParent US
E-safety expert

Hi James. As a father of 2 boys in the 9-16 demographic, I doubt the 14% stat referenced above. That being said, having safe search filters set to "on" is a good step, if for no other reason that it will keep some kids from seeing porn or other offensive material accidentally. If they go looking for it, they will still find it though.

3 Reply ( 1 ) Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Andrew Weekes expert
Andrew Weekes Techy engineer, father of two. Sevenoaks, GB
Technology expert

My personal answer to the original question is no. In fact I think there's a very real risk it could make things worse.

Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive, my reasoning is this: -

Any filter at the ISP is an all or nothing filter, it is technically not possible to filter differently for individual users within a household, using a filter present at your ISP.

If a parent or older child wants to access blocked material (and let's not forget that not all of the blocked material will be pornographic or illegal) the filter has to be turned off, which means the situation for younger members of the family will not have improved from where we are now.

It also leads to complacency.

By abdicating responsibility to the ISP / Big Brother / Government etc. parents get a false sense of security. I intend to write a blog post soon where I will show people how easy it is to bypass an ISP filter if you don't configure your PC securely.

It's trivially easy and would take any tech-savvy child about 30 seconds to do.

This might seem to some to be irresponsible, but it's nothing that any child, with an ability to use Google, would not be able to discover for themselves, the information is in the public domain and it will be shared between our children at school. There's simply nothing you can do about it.

Since in my experience parents who don't take control of their internet filters and PC's, due to lack of knowledge, will almost definitely not have secured their, or their children's PC's, they are lulled into a false sense of security.

Then there's the side channels, it only takes one single child with access to adult material to distribute it amongst their friends. It happened before the internet and it WILL happen with the internet. I know this because I've seen it with my own eyes, on my eldest son's tablet and phone.

As a parent you have a duty to educate yourself about these things and in my view instead of making easy sound bites and enacting policy for which there isn't a single shred of evidence of the harm to children, the government should have done the right thing and instigated a campaign to educate parents, with the ISP helping in that campaign.

Of course this isn't so easy and doesn't make the headlines in the same way. When I hear the prime minister stating that the Daily Mail has won it's campaign I frankly despair at the state of modern politics.

The story that claimed this victory had sidebars of semi-naked women, a page that in all likelhood would be blocked if the filters were in place. There's a very strong chance that significant portions of the Daily Mail site would be blocked, which might be one of the few upsides to such a filter!

http://www.newstatesman.com/business/2013/07/would-daily-mail-website-fall-foul-online-porn-filters-it-has-championed

What particularly annoys me is the campaign is inherently prudish, it seems to be implying that all porn is bad, people who watch porn are bad and by creating an opt-out state there seems to be an attempt to shame people in a puritanical, Mary Whitehouse-esque campaign spearheaded by the extremely not-internet-savvy MP Claire Perry.

Her own personal website was hacked recently, and whilst I don't condone such defacement her reaction to this highlighted that she doesn't have the slightest clue about how the internet works and was blithely making accusations for which she may face legal action.

Let's be clear about this, the MP campaigning for online safety does not understand how the internet works. Do you think that makes her a suitable individual to be enacting policy relating to it?

I'm not against filters for younger children, in fact I wholly support them, but you must take control of them yourselves, be sure they are properly implemented and monitor them regularly.

Failing to do that is tantamount to leaving your car unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, and expecting it not to be stolen because we have a national police force who we think will protect it.

You wouldn't do that with your car or your house, why would you do it to the most precious thing you have, your children?

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Experience 3 years ago
expert answer
Colin McKeown expert
Colin McKeown Safeguarding consulant GB
E-safety expert

I agree with James. Whilst the efforts are to be applauded as making access to child abuse images as difficult as possible is a must, there has to be a realistic view as to what it can actually achieve. For years I have been told by the filtering organisations across the globe that "we can block porn" yet in the course of my day to day activity, I am aware of pornography being accessed daily in schools across the UK, Middle East and Far East.

You only have to look to the more moderate Middle East Countries where they have amazing filtering provisions that a combination of technology and human intervention. Yet by typing a few innocent words or more recently a series of numbers in the case of some lateral thinking youngsters, the strictest filtering will soon present you with inappropriate images - its the nature of the web, you simply can't catalogue everything into a filter list!

The bigger challenge facing us all is the issue of "Selfies" and localised porn created on mobile phones, the dreaded three lettered operating system devices with their lack of parental support and Apps that have a dual purpose - often fun on the one hand but quickly turning in to a potential nightmare for a parent having to deal with their child getting carried away with a video "session" with a friend or stranger. These are much more difficult to deal with and most will unlikely touch the Internet in a form that can be detected by the Mr Cameron's grand "vision".

Remember that if the inappropriate video or picture that one could consider "porn" (if adults were in the image) is of an under 18 it is more likely to be classed under the new legislation as a child abuse image and at that point the issue is a significant one for all parties involved in the incident as it could involve criminal prosecution depending upon the circumstances.

A caution for a 15 year old taking unlawful pictures of their other half naked could see them put on a sex offenders register - clearly something that would likely follow them for life and certainly limit future career options.

This far bigger issue (IMHO) will have to be addressed by a combination of parental support technology, the mobile device companies actually taking responsibility for their technological shortcomings and educating youngsters to deal with the risk by avoiding the pitfalls that could otherwise impact on them for life; whether they end up being a victim or inadvertent perpetrator.

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Fact 3 years ago
Gary Hough
Gary Hough Regulatory Manager & Post Punk GB

Quite simply - No. The ease in which these systems can be circumvented is worrying. A simple Google search then three steps later you are at the blocked url via a proxy. Claire perry and similar have continuously ignored the technical limitations pointed out to them yet continue to try and hoodwink parents that mandatory filtering will make the world and their internet accounts a much better place. Wrong. How many parents could be forgiven for thinking that their children are protected because their ISP uses a network level parental control system, totally unaware that little Johnny and Mary are upstairs bypassing the filters and viewing who knows what. Not all parents are technically capable or indeed focused enough to check on what their kids are doing online and the Government are using them as the excuse to wish to block legal content let alone anything else.

It worries me greatly that parents and carers of children think a UK wide ISP block on content will somehow protect everyone. At best it provides some protection from inadvertent access.

Yahoo have just censored their search engine for Tumblr sites so you can't search key words that would lead you to inappropriate content yet all the content is still up there on the same sites. You just need to know the url's. And Children won't think of that or share one to one, one to many then.

Notice and Takedown is where the focus needs to be for the Government and Law Enforcement. Education and awareness and local level filtering tools and services that the internet users implement on their own connections themselves is the better way to do it. And don't forget the unintended consequences of over blocking and under blocking as this recent example highlights all too well.

https://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/my-porn-blocking-blog-post-got-porn-blocked/

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Experience 3 years ago
Matthew Day
Matthew Day A geek London, GB

Why should a default filter perform any better than the current options available, plagued with mis-blocking, and surely never 100% up to date.

At best, a default filter should be on top of the most common mistypes, like F⋆⋆⋆Book instead of facebook, and do a passable job of preventing accidental exposure.

At worst, many innocent domains could be blocked due to shared hosting with a blocked one (a fault that afflicts all IP address based blocking), or the censorproxies could cripple throughput if blocking just one thing on a domain.

All for a filter that can never be guaranteed effective, and may give a false sense of security

I'll cite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InternetWatchFoundationandWikipedia as an example of what happens when censorship goes bad!

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Sedgrid Lewis expert
Sedgrid Lewis Internet Safety Expert Rex, US
E-safety expert

Teens do not access porn from websites. They get live porn through apps. Teens are putting up homemade porn videos on Vine and Instagram. You have to monitor the apps. Filters are so 2000

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Experience 3 years ago
Juha Rinne
Juha Rinne Software professional FI

To me the basic problem is that unlike in physical, the virtual allow people to act with out their real identity. Go to the supermarket and you take your full appearance with you and possibly your ID card as well. In web the things are built around, i.e. one can wonder around with no identity or with alter egos. If we could "normalize" this situation there would not be need for many poorly working filters. Yes nothing is perfect there happen many kinds of mistakes in physical world side as well.

0 Reply ( 1 ) Share:
Experience 3 years ago
expert answer
Scophie Cooper expert
Scophie Cooper Software engineer US

I use a porn filter on my son's PC.

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Fact 5 months ago

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