Britain’s Close Call With Porn Filters: Two Perspectives

by Violet Blue on November 29, 2010

Britain Porn ISP Filters
Update: Hey, my article made it to the ZDNet/CBSi front door! Yay!

Last week I got an email from Zack Whittaker, ZDNet’s iGeneration blogger. He sent me an article on BBC that had stats about wee ones looking at pr0ns that made it look like an epidemic — an impossible set of stats, to my eyes. However, like these things go, conservative officials had taken the data porn (that’s what it is, folks) at face value and there was talk that the House of Commons was considering making ISP’s put anti-porn filters on their internets, as a default, so people who did not want filters would need to “opt-in.”

It would be like when Google rolled out Instant and didn’t tell anyone it was filtered (check this out). Or like how no one knows Flickr is extremely filtered by default because they don’t even hint that you can take Safe filtering off, or tell you how to do it.

After writing the article, I am mostly like, WTF England. You’re already looking like the Twit Olympics with Ed Vaizey and “we don’t need no net neutrality.”

So Mr. Whittaker and I had a blogger face-off about it. He wrote Online porn ‘opt in’ proposed to ISP’s and I wrote Britain Considers ISP Filters To Save The Children: Flawed Logic. Huge fights in the comments, especially mine. Someone wrote that the only answer here in the US is to force all adult sites onto .XXX domains. Another wrote from Australia, who are dealing with their own issues. No one seemed to notice that I pointed out the data being used to scare them — is bullshit.

I’m mostly irritated at the BBC for citing the lazy, unsubstantiated numbers that Psychologies Magazine pulled out of their ass — as if they were actual study data, and giving other media and news outlets the platform to write “according to the BBC.” Because now they will.

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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{ 6 comments }

1 L. December 7, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Actually, when I was over there earlier this year, I was shocked when my pre-paid wireless would not allow me to access certain sites — instead my browser was directed to a page that said I would have to confirm to the ISP that I was over 18 if I wanted to view these pages — even a blog of someone I know personally which contains fiction of adult consensual sexuality. So, at the time, I searched or a little more info, and just according to the wikipedia article, England already imposes ‘internet filters’, and uses them (ostensibly to protect children – um, isn’t that their parents’ jobs? I personally would never allow a child on the internet without supervision – isn’t that the same as anywhere in real-life, also? Doesn’t mean censorship is necessary or acceptable!) – and we all know well that such ‘filters’ can be used to censor anything the authorities-of-the-day judge – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_the_United_Kingdom

2 Wolf December 1, 2010 at 4:19 am

You go girl! Keep fighting the good fight!

3 Zoulmi November 30, 2010 at 1:18 am

I know why English people are so afraid of sex. It’s because of the French.
Remember that we (I’m French) used to like to chop off our king’s head. And revolutionaries are known as “sans-culottes”. (sans = without)
In 1789, a culotte was an un-practical and expensive trousers/pants used mainly by the court of the king. But nowadays, it means panties.
So google translator says that panties-less people are king/queen decapitators. It is understandable that it scares citizens of Queen Elizabeth II. (And lead the the question : WTF America?)
(And web filters in French have always had this problem : it’s a bit like “Queen Victoria” or “George Washington” were written the same are “without panties”. White or black list those words?)

PS : http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix_-_La_libert%C3%A9_guidant_le_peuple.jpg (Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) by Eugène Delacroix.) Fuck yeah, Freedom’s tits in history books.

4 Peter November 29, 2010 at 9:59 pm

My problem with something like this… whether opt-in, opt-out, or opt-sideways… is that in order to filter out porn we must be able to distinguish something that is porn from something that isn’t. Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to come up with a clear definition, since one man’s porn is another man’s holiday snapshot of his wife in culottes (wooo… those ankles!). Is a picture of a woman’s breast porn? With the nipple covered? In glitter? Does this site count as porn, or is it a site for information about one of the essential biological functions? Different people will have different answers to those questions, and that’s not a bad thing. The bad thing is to assume there is a single valid answer to those questions.

5 Jason November 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

(And to clarify: Any gov’t mandate for such is mindbogglingly stupid. But then so are the TSA regs.)

6 Jason November 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Nothing to do with your correct point about using garbage data for policy, but you triggered an idea…

Opt-in ISP-based filters coupled with an IPv6 subnet per house could be quite useful for parents. I don’t expect any major ISPs to adopt something so terribly end-user friendly, but a smaller ISP could leverage the idea and possibly attract parents.

A household could opt-in in general, and opt-out for a few specific devices (assuming the ISP handled assigning IPv6 addresses, or used autoconfig). It could be defeated by someone savvy enough to change the MAC, but then just run your kids’ machines within VMs. Any guest / unknown user would be filtered by default, which really is safest given how touchy some people are. If the TV is handled over a network, well, the same concept could apply there to exempt the adult bedroom TV (said by someone who doesn’t own a TV and will *NEVER* have one in the bedroom).

And yes, I know many filters suck. But some smaller ISPs like Sonic are quite receptive to changes and advice on filtering (even if stuck with non-v6-capable equipment). I’m thinking of those ISPs for this plan. *Could* be useful for households with pre-teens, and/or households that leave wireless open intentionally.

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