If I sign up for a new broadband service I don’t expect to be questioned about my personal (and private) surfing habits. And will providing this information really make children safer online? I don’t think so.
I like the word ‘choice’ – it sounds good. I don’t want to be dictated to – I want to choose. But I think TalkTalk’s plans to give everyone a ‘choice’ about parental controls isn’t necessarily a great idea.
A couple of months ago I asked if people wanted to watch porn online. (Not something I find myself regularly doing in the course of my day-to-day work, it must be said.) I did this mainly to prove the point that actually being asked the question is a bit of a surprise, and not something that most people want.
Now TalkTalk has announced that its customers will be asked whether they want service blocks on their internet. If they don’t answer the questions they can’t activate the service. You don’t have to have the blocks, but you do have to answer the question before they’ll activate your internet service.
The questions aren’t just about the ‘adult’ services that I’d blush to write about, but other categories as well, such as gambling, social networking, weapons and suicide.
Are we really getting an active choice?
The aim is to give parents a more ‘active choice’ in what their children view on the internet. A laudable aim, but those without children might be wondering why they have to tell their broadband provider they like to have a bit of a flutter on online poker sites every now and then.
If I’m choosing a broadband provider, I’d like to think that I’m also more than capable of asking it to block certain services if I want them to. Being prompted to choose seems odd, and makes me worry that judgments would be made about anyone who opted not to have the block.
It might sound petty, but I’ve paid for a service that encompasses the whole internet. I no more want to tell my provider which bits of it I’ll be using than I want to tell a bike company where I’ll be cycling to. It’s none of their business.
Does it protect children?
My second concern is that this could lull many parents into a false sense of security. These blocking services, while pretty sophisticated, will never be able to catch all of the inappropriate content that children could be exposed to.
What’s more, it could block content that is extremely helpful for young people. In the last Convo I wrote, carolo pointed out that:
‘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”.’
So, will TalkTalk’s system make children safer? My gut reaction is ‘no’, but I’d like to be proven wrong. I think that it’s a risky move to force all its subscribers to make this ‘choice’. If it doesn’t result in safer browsing for children, then its customers will have answered these embarrassing questions for nothing.
But maybe I’m just too private. Perhaps it is worth making users answer these questions before their service is activated. Would it put you off, or do you think I’m making a fuss over nothing?