/ Parenting, Technology

Morning madam, do you want to watch porn online?

What an impertinent question. It is of course none of my business whether you like watching porn. But apparently it is now the business of both the government and your internet service provider.

After the Bailey Review, a report released in June about the sexualisation of children, we’ve had a tough question to answer – to what extent should we curb adult rights in order to protect our children?

Apparently one of the answers is to change the way your internet service provider (ISP) restricts adult sites. The idea is that if you block porn from computers, you prevent children from seeing it and thus reduce the amount of sexual content they are exposed to.

Parental controls: opt-in or opt-out?

At the moment there is some confusion about whether the blocking of porn will be an opt-out system (i.e. porn is automatically blocked and you need to have a rather embarrassing phone call with your ISP to ask them to lift that restriction) or whether it will be opt-in (i.e. when you sign up for a new broadband deal your ISP asks whether you’d like to have porn blocked).

The first of these is naturally extremely restrictive, and results in censorship by companies of services that individuals have paid for.

But I also think the second one – what TalkTalk calls an “active choice” – creates problems. If people are prompted at the point of sale to make a decision about pornography, you’re effectively asking adults to discuss their internet-usage habits with a complete stranger.

Even if you do decide to keep porn blocked, the choice as to what’s blocked will be in the hands of the ISP, not the individual.

Is Parentport appropriate?

What children watch should be in the hands of their parents, not ISPs. But accompanying the proposals is the announcement of a new website – Parentport – where parents can report content (including posters, programmes and films) that they think are inappropriate for children.

Am I missing something here? We’re floating the idea of ISPs censoring porn so that parents don’t have to – why are we now saying that parents should be able to make suggestions about inappropriate content? What we’re doing is removing the responsibility of individual parents, while at the same time giving them power over what is and is not appropriate for others.

I don’t have children (can you tell?!) but I am an adult. I am old enough to pay for my own broadband connection, old enough to have a contract on my phone, old enough to not have to talk to my ISP about what I do and don’t watch. And, above all, I’m old enough to know that (children or no children) what’s “appropriate” should be decided by individual families and should not be imposed on us all.

Do you think we need to make an “active choice” to watch porn, or is there a better way to educate parents about relevant blocks and controls?

Comments
Member

I don’t think that ANY adult rights should be curtailed in order to “protect the children”. This is the mark of a fascist and a level of censorship that we MUST fight to the death.

It is down to the parent, if you have a computer/tablet at home then it is your responsibility to restrict content if it can affect your children. This can either be done via the firewall or from BT themselves.

Good on BT and talktalk for fighting this, it’s not about porn, it’s about the censorship of the net, it just can’t be done.

Member

Just to say, BT and TalkTalk have both signed up to this, as well as Sky and Virgin.

Member

I’d like to see porn banned at source. It’s not needed and feeds desires that are not good and healthy.

However it does exist and I don’t want my kids to get access to it. In fact I don’t want access to it. I have put in place technology that for their current age and usage will block access to sites deemed porn by the mechanism I use. They don’t need to know about porn at their age. We also when we can stay with them when they use the computer and keep track of messaging. Currently I’ve had no issues getting to any site I need to get to.

The problem with handing the filtering to the ISP is when they “get it wrong” either way. Letting porn through or blocking non-porn (could apply to any topic though). As an example one system has categorised bbc.co.uk as an adult site including CBeebies. And as mentioned what if a future government wants to restrict some other information.

On the more specifics of the topic, I have no problem if people wanting porn need to make an embarrassing call to their ISP.

Member

Good point on the tech tweetiepooh – as it’s not an exact science there will no doubt be websites that are blocked that shouldn’t be (apparently sexual health charities have problems with this sometimes) and also sites that are pornographic that aren’t picked up by the filters. Another reason, I think, why control should be given on an individual level. And just as an addition – parents do already have this element of control – they can block adult sites if they want to, it’s just that they won’t be prompted by their ISPs to make that choice.

Regarding whether porn is inherently a bad thing and should be banned… well, that’s probably not a discussion for me to have on this thread. I’d say given that it is legal it should be available to adults who have paid for the service without them having to opt into it.

Member

Meanwhile, would I get a prize for being the first to ask to opt in ?

Member

While this is a similar debate to the one Patrick raised recently about TV censorship for children, I feel that it’s much more clear-cut when considering TV. It’s easy for parents to censor TV – and they should be the ones responsible for doing so. TV is so invasive that only ‘bad’ parenting (TVs in bedrooms/using it as a babysitter while you’ve got no clue what they’re watching etc) would lead to the wrong stuff slipping through.

But it is harder with computers. As kids get older they use them for homework, often unsupervised. As computers are quiet, portable and don’t sit on view to the whole room, it would be much harder for parents to always know what’s being looked at. The speed at which you can surf between sites and pages also makes supervision difficult.

I’m not disagreeing that this move is taking away certain people’s rights, but getting internet censorship right for everyone is a fine balance. I’d be happy to opt-in to censorship so long as it was made clear to me by my ISP that this is what is required. I think communication about this issue is pretty poor from ISPs (mine at least) and they should be helping parents to censor their kids online if an opt-out approach was adopted.

Member

That would set a very dangerous precedent

Member

What would? I wasn’t disagreeing with you…

Member

The bit in the last paragraph after you say “but”

You detail a scenario whereby you would be happy for some internet censorship. We should not accept any internet censorship whatsoever or else we will become like China. Once you start down the dark path….. 🙂

Member

I think we’re both using different words to say the same thing – you say ‘parental control’ I say ‘censorship’.

Member

I agree with Dean entirely on this one. Parents should be able to provide their children with computers that do not enable the browsing history to be turned off and where a parent sets and controls all paswords. They could then retrospectively review its use [after first telling the child of such a facility and conducting the supervision in a transparent manner of course]. Parents would not be compelled to provide such computers – they could provide a full and open access facility if they wished to but would have to understand and accept their responsibilities. Sadly, the state of parenting skills today does not fill me with much confidence but that would still not justify a form of censorship affecting all users.

Member
John says:
12 October 2011

This is by no means a simple issue. Like it or not, access to view legal pornography is an individual’s right under current legislation. This would mean that any automatic default restriction by ISPs “at source” would be a contravention of this legislation.

Without exploring the numerous types of pornography, as defined, it should be noted that extreme violence has also been deemed by some to be pornographic. There are a number of computer games currently available that might very well qualify here, but control of their use is left entirely to parents or guardians.

Clearly, the protection of young children from seeing pornography of any kind is most important. However, decisions about what children should be allowed to see must be the sole responsibility of parents or guardians and not a commercial enterprise or, indeed, the Government.

Control “at source” by ISPs on an opt-out basis would set a dangerous precedent in terms of censorship of the internet by an organisation, up to and including Government. Similarly, an opt-in solution would still be subject to blanket control by the ISP, with no selective choice for the individual.

In summary, what children can view at the PC or other device, and the age at which they can view it, should be solely the responsibility of parents or guardians. Therefore, easy-to-use filtering tools should be made readily available to them to achieve this control. Any kind of blanket control by ISPs would represent undue internet content censorship, setting a dangerous precedent, and must be resisted.

Member

I find it hard to believe that there are still people around today that are completely “anti porn”. What is it they are afraid of and have they ever actually watched any??? I think the current provision that allows parents to block particular sites is appropriate and is all that is needed. It is used widely by schools who don’t have any problems with it (other than occasionally not being able to access sites that have been blocked unnecessarily). The issue of the “sexualisation of children” is an interesting one, but I find it hard to make any correlation between that and the accessability of porn.

Member
Anonymous says:
12 October 2011

I do not want to block my children from viewing porn. I would rather know that they are watching it in an open and honest way rather than forcing them to be sneaky about it. I encourage my children to talk to me about all the issues that affect them and believe that what they most need is love and honest communication. They do not need to have undue restrictions put upon them…

Member

I think you’re right – the fact is that unless porn is made illegal (highly unlikely) children are going to come across it. The technical issues mentioned by other posters and the curiosity of kids means that children will always come across things that we wouldn’t necessarily consider ‘appropriate’ – not just sexual imagery but violence, gambling sites, and a whole host of other things. Giving them a grounding that will allow them to put this content in context, without being disturbed or overly affected by it, is a good way to protect them against potentially harmful consequences.

Obviously that’s my own opinion, not that of Which? – I don’t think Which? has a view on educating children about media, etc – that’s probably one for another organisation =)

Member
carolo says:
12 October 2011

As a 65 year old gay man what worries me about this proposal is precisely what these ISP`s classify as “porn”.

Any gay teenage children-just coming out and trying to find information and support-will-I suspect, find that ALL references to the word “gay” have been blocked-and classified as “porn”.

Usually this porn-blocking software is very crude and unable to differentiate between help and information on gay issues-and classifying it -and by default all gay people- as just “porn”

Member
Family Man says:
12 October 2011

A good internet security package will allow you to control your childs access to all kinds of unsavory material, not just porn. We have a 12 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. The Security software can be programmed for their age and blocks suspicious material. If legitimate sites are blocked they can easily be listed as exceptions and unblocked. Its not a problem for us. Unlike many parents today we do take the age restrictions on DVD’s and Games quite seriously and even more so the Internet. When my children are 18 they can make their own choices but until then we will certainly try to limit their exposure to the worst material. In our modern society it is very difficult to not be exposed to some materials and we accept that. Ocassional Swearing or partial nakedness is not a major disaster. Hard core porn is just nasty. However well meaning this initiative is, it doesn’t solve the problem of parents not taking proper responsibility for their children so it is doomed to failure.

Member

There’s quite a lot of good in increasing the profile of parental controls, and I’m glad to see that the confusion has gone – you will have to opt-in to the parental controls, not opt-in to porn!

However, I think there are quite a few problems with this happening on an ISP level. Many pointed out by Nikki. How will they decide what’s appropriate? Carolo makes a great point – these blocks can get rid of legitimate content.

And then there’s the fact that the person setting up the internet isn’t necessarily the person using the internet. How could that be so? Well, what about university halls of residence? The students wouldn’t have a say about this block at ISP level. When students are in the privacy of their own room, who is to say what legal content they should and shouldn’t look at?

For me that just shows that it should be done on a computer/browser level, and parents should be made aware of how to do this. That just my two cents though!

Member
Phil says:
12 October 2011

Another point to ponder is who controls the list of those who have opted in? Would the police have access to it? What about your employer (who might be a bit prudish) or anyone running CRB checks? How can we be sure it wouldn’t be sold for junk mail or tele-marketing purposes?

Member

It would be odd for the police to have access to it as porn isn’t illegal, but I do see your point. Presumably as it’s held by your ISP then if you had opted in to marketing then they may choose to market to you based on this list – that hadn’t occurred to me. Worth keeping an eye on to see if it happens!

Member
Phil says:
13 October 2011

Well some pornography is illegal but if you think back to the Milly Dowler case one of the reasons the police gave for initially suspecting her father was because he had a collection of porn. It might not have been illegal but apparently the police believe anyone who views pornography is a potential child murderer/rapist. I suppose it’s part of the psychological profile.

Member
John says:
13 October 2011

I wonder how many policemen view pornography, outside of the job, that is. Makes it difficult to be objective, I guess.

Member

Perhaps in an ideal world porn wouldn’t exist. Realistically, we know it does and that even if we choose to block it, our children could still access it at their friends’ houses if their friends’ parents chose not to block it. So we just cannot prevent our children looking at porn, and it is therefore more important to educate them about what’s good and bad.

Member
observa tory says:
13 October 2011

What utter tosh , if you have kids then guess what its your responsibility to turn them out as you see fit and if you dont want them watching naked people do sexual things online then stop them . Personally i dont have kids i dont like them and im sick of feeling that everything in the world revolves around those that do . On another angle here considering porn isnt illegal surely this new legislation will have a dire affect on those businesses who sell it online , sorry for asking this Mr Cameron but wont this put more people out of work ? Is that what you want ? Might aswell live in bloody China or Korea ………Censorship ! And this is just for starters .

Member
Dave says:
13 October 2011

Can we ban all sales of alcohol and tobacco as well please to safeguard the kids!

Member

The way round this is simple: proxies and incognito browser modes.