On Twitter: @JamesFirth and @s_r_o_c (post feed)

Got a tip? tip@sroc.eu

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Hell, yeah! Let's flood our public spaces with lots of "clean", porn-free WiFi...

I have no idealistic or moral objection to the Prime Minister wanting to appear to be doing the good and proper thing to appease campaigning children's charities and electors with kids.

But technically what the Prime Minister wants (and this smells like another shambolic policy emanating from the general direction of "Minister for the Internets" Ed Vaizey) - porn-free WiFi in open spaces, is both unworkable and misguided.

Misguided because it sends the message that pornography is the biggest danger kids face on the internet.

Not even close.  I haven't got references to hand but I've read studies showing the effects on children of exposure to sexualised imagery are minimal in most cases.

Bar a minority who have a tendency to become obsessive, most children can adapt to effectively "block out" sexual imagery and it loses its effect.

Yes it can normalise abnormal behaviour (such as sexual violence) but even here the jury's out and the debate is along similar lines to violent films and video games: is a society which does little to discourage the availability of violent imagery more violent than one that discourages it?

My premise is that the biggest danger children face on the internet is physiological.  Just one example: interacting with others online in text-based formats with the absence of non-verbal cues (such as facial expressions) seems to lead to some extremes of behaviour (eg flame wars) and passionately entrenched arguments can become an obsession.

Also in that department there's bullying (again exacerbated by the shielding the internet brings, ie being unable to see the effect bullying has on the bullied), mob behaviour, and other extremes that can sometimes lead to illegal activity such as harassment or hacking in order to get a greater hold over a perceived opponent.

And unworkable for two reasons.

On the legislative front it will be very hard to impose what amounts to state-mandated decency rules on all "public" WiFi.  The risk of being fined for allowing a bare nipple to slip through your modesty filter will merely discourage businesses from providing WiFi.

So instead I'm hearing what the Prime Minister wants - "clean, porn-free WiFi" - won't be enforced by legislation.  It will instead be secured by a classic fudge that I've heard Ed Vaizey mutter tens of times: an industry code of conduct.  The threat being if the industry doesn't enforce the rules, legislation will follow.

But which industry? The cafe industry? Or the hotel industry? Or the ISP industry? If the latter, then will ISPs providing a service to a cafe have to block porn at source? And if so, how will the cafe owner get his daily fix of flesh if he or she requires, behind closed doors, of course?

And on the technical front it's a running battle to filter all porn.  A battle the filtering companies aren't winning and probably will never win - particularly in regards to over-blocking of 'legitimate' sites.

Plus there's the tricky issue of "dual-use" mainstream websites such as Flickr.

Flickr wasn't blocked when I tested a multitude of content filtering systems 18 months ago whilst with Open Digital.

But if you're over 18, not easily offended, in a private space and not using a work internet connection, you might try this:
  • Sign up to the 74th (according to Alexa at time of writing) most popular website in the world
  • Type your favourite sex words* in to the search box
  • In the results, click on Advanced Search and change the SafeSearch setting to "SafeSearch off"  

It's not hard to find flesh.  From there you can even get list of users who have favourited such images, and from there find other similar images favourited by that user. Or so my research assistant tells me!

So I assume Flickr will have to be blocked in internet cafes across the country.

Now imagine the following scenario: a tourist visiting London, uploading their day's photos to one of the world's most popular photo-sharing websites...

David Cameron's wish for clean public WiFi - noble, but utterly unworkable.

What we should be telling all parents is that they must work with their children on what is the digital equivalent of the green cross code re internet safety.  Be aware of the dangers, mitigate the risks, and be careful chosing the devices you allow your children to use - consider devices with built-in locks on internet use for younger children, allowing only supervised access.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be accepted so long as they're on-topic, do not include gratuitous language and do not include personal attacks or libellous assertions.

Comments are the views of the commentator and not necessarily the view of the blog owner.

Comments on newer posts are not normally pre-moderated and the blog owner cannot be held responsible for comments made by 3rd parties.

Requests for comment removal will be considered via the Contact section (above) or email to editorial@slightlyrightofcentre.com.