Net neutrality is an important topic – far more important than a simple Analytics blog could ever hope to cover – and covers many different areas. From ensuring that network operators don’t filter or throttle particular connection types for the benefit of their partners to making sure that Governments don’t legislate against sites who comply with the law but don’t fit with their political leanings.
Enter David Cameron. In what the Daily Mail proclaimed victory for them, David Cameron has vowed to ban porn. More specifically every person with an internet connection in the UK will be asked whether they want to have ‘family friendly filters’ put in place and all new connections will be given it by default unless they choose to opt out.
We’ll ignore for the moment that David Cameron appears to be talking about something completely different to the ISPs (as this leaked letter demonstrates) and that this isn’t actually legislation, it is Cameron abusing his power as leader of the country to request something that would get through the Commons or the Lords if it was turned into real legislation. Let’s look at why it is a bad idea in detail.
This is bad for adults without children
This isn’t a porn ban.
I happen to have my mobile with O2, who have implemented an over 18 filter already, unless you choose to opt out (which I haven’t done yet, mainly because O2 seem to make it more difficult than a massive tick box on my login screen).
O2’s filter has been plagued by problems where they’ve filtered out things that they shouldn’t do. Specifically they’ve filtered out the BNP’s website. However unsavoury you may think the BNP are, they are still a legitimate politically party with an MEP, two councillors and a European Election coming up. How am I meant to know if I want to vote for them (I don’t) if I can’t see their website.
The great firewall of Cameron isn’t a block on porn, it is the potential for a block on political discourse. If you don’t have children and are wondering whether you should opt in to the ban, you absolutely should not.
For net neutrality this is awful. It has the potential for ISPs to start blocking sites that they claim are for adults, but in reality offer rival services (look at the fact that Torrent Freak often falls foul of these filters, despite being a legitimate news site).
Moreover this is particularly bad for business. Imagine if you site was given a false positive as a porn site and it suddenly got dropped from a load of ISPs. What would it take to do it? Will my blog be blocked merely because I am talking about porn? Will a site with an image with the wrong url be banned? What happens if I have a business where one of my major traffic referrers gets hit by the ban. Are the Government or ISP going to reimburse for lost revenues?
Moreover, how will something like an adult site be distinguished from page 3 (Cameron has said he wouldn’t look to ban this) or even the Daily Mail website itself, who as many gleefully pointed out has its own right column of shame?
This is bad for parents
I’m sure most people are aware of the continuing ban on websites such as the Pirate Bay, as issued by the UK high court. This giant game of whack a mole being played out by the big music and film associations as they try and close down file sharing sites, which are instantly replaced by newer sites.
The problem with a ‘porn ban’ is that is essentially the same whack a mole process, but with nowhere near the self interest that the entertainment industry is offering.
Either the list of sites that are filtered is going to be out of date almost as quickly as it is implemented if it is created manually. Or the list is going to be automated based on keywords in which case it will be relatively easy to break unless it is constantly updated (l33t sp34k was entirely created because of usenet forums banning particular words).
So the system doesn’t work, but parents think it does. They spend less attention to their children whilst they are on the internet under the false apprehension that their kids are ‘safe’.
So if I was a parent (and I’m not, so I suppose you have to take this with a pinch of salt) I would not be implementing this ban for my kids. I think it would give me a false sense of security. Instead I would opt for a more specific programme on my computer and mobile connections that I could turn on and off when the children are using it. More importantly I will be making sure that my children have some level of supervision whilst they are on a computer (until they are old enough to make their own, informed choices).
This is bad for Children
Ok, well I might be exaggerating this point slightly. The ban mainly has no effect on children because the pages that are banned won’t be appearing on their screens anyway. If a child does ‘stumble’ across a port website – which sounds hideously unlikely to me – it will either be filtered because its on the list (possibly enhancing their curiosity to find out what is behind it) or they will see it because it hasn’t hit the filter yet (which is far more likely).
More importantly, we’re bringing children up to believe that internet access is something that can be controlled by government and it isn’t.
The internet is a wonderfull thing, but it is just a tool. It is a tool that allows us to create, share and learn. Instead of blocking porn for kids, we should be explaining to them what it is and why it isn’t representative of real life. Prohibition has never worked and we aren’t learning the lessons of the past.