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do you want your ISP to block porn and other “objectionable” content automatically?

xkcdporn

If you’re outside the U.K., you may not have heard about this. But it’s been happening for a while now. From Digital Spy:

BT has announced that new customers of its broadband services will have porn blocked automatically.

The ISP is the latest company to introduce an active adult content filter turned on by default, unless the customer chooses to change the controls when setting up their internet connection.

BT is offering three levels of filtering – strict, moderate and light – as well as the option to add and remove a website from the block list.

It is also possible to alter the filter at certain times of the day, for example it may go down to the light setting at the time the children go to bed.

The settings can be changed at any time, although the customers’ credentials will be required. For extra peace of mind, BT will send the adult account holder an email informing them of the change.

Brendan O’Neill at The Daily Beast explains some of the problems with the British policy (I’m ignoring his idiotic contention that it’s mostly men who watch porn):

[A]s the free speech campaign group Open Rights points out, internet filters can be notoriously clumsy, often blocking stuff that isn’t actually pornographic or violent but which is merely “adult”: articles about smoking, advertisements for booze, etc.

Open Rights spoke with some of the ISPs who have agreed to impose a porn block in British households, and they admitted that other material might also get blocked—including “violent material, suicide-related websites, anorexia, and eating disorder websites.” So whole swathes of the internet are going to have a forcefield erected around them, and actual, sentient, fully grown adults will have to ask permission to penetrate this forcefield.

This is definitely not just bad, but ridiculous. Will sites about, say, breast feeding get caught in the net? (We’ve already seen how Facebook polices “porn” — by removing pages devoting to feeding babies and dealing with cancer — while still permitting sexual violence, thereby confirming the perhaps apocryphal quote about the MPAA and movies, about how cutting off a breast is fine but kissing it is a no-no.)

Here’s the larger concern:

We need to challenge this top-down decree that all web connections should, by default, be child-friendly. What if Cameron decides next that erotic literature or fiery political tracts are also harmful to children and thus web access to them should be automatically switched off? No good can come of allowing politicians, in cahoots with ISPs, to tell the public what a “normal” internet should look like.

Agreed.

What do you think?

Do you want your ISP to block porn and other “objectionable” content automatically? Would you be embarrassed to call up your ISP and ask to opt-out, for the filter to be turned off? What other material would you worry would get caught up in such a filter?

ETA: See this, too: “The hidden cost of introducing porn filters” at The Telegraph.

cartoon from XKCD, of course

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)


  • Arlene Adams

    Yeah, this whole thing is scary, and now I hear about other countries that are thinking of trying to adopt the same system. I’m hoping for a massive backlash when it all goes fully into effect… Let’s hope so anyway. And for those who are smart enough to use VPNs, proxy sites, torch browser, tor, or whatever else will get them the content without having to deal with their ISP, it doesn’t matter anyway.

  • RogerBW

    The government has already said it’s going to extend this to “extremist content”.

    Complaining about the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has been deemed an “extremist opinion”.

    Apparently they think we can’t join the dots.

    I use an ISP with an explicit policy of not filtering.

  • I like the option to filter, certainly, as I have a 12 year old at home. I get that from Firefox, though. I don’t see why any ISP needs to be doing it. Let people block, or not block, through other means. It says above that there will be three settings. Where is the “no filtering” setting? Or is that if you simply go in an turn it all off? Yeah, this is weird.

  • chris
  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Would you be embarrassed to call up your ISP and ask to opt-out, for the filter to be turned off?

    Not really. I’m not going to call them up and ask, in so many words, “Why is redhubtubedotcom being blocked?” Rather, the conversation would be “Disable all filtering on my account. I’ll handle that in my local network.”

  • MisterAntrobus

    Being from the other side of the pond, I’m unfamiliar with BT. Is it a private company or is it some way connected to the government of the UK, as the BBC is? I don’t like the idea of anybody censoring content for me, but it’s especially disturbing if it’s official government policy.

  • RogerBW

    It is the former state monopoly telecoms provider, privatised in the 1980s.
    As an ISP, it’s a cheap and nasty service — the choice of people who don’t realise they have the option of going elsewhere. It’s starting to get that way for basic voice telephony too.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I still refuse to believe that “telephony” is a real word. >.>

  • Which ISP do you use?

  • But most people don’t know how to use VPNs and such — they probably don’t even know such things exist. Most people stick with the browser that came with their computer. And most people probably won’t even really be aware that their surfing is being constricted.

  • RogerBW

    Andrews and Arnold. Their boss has recently been showing up on Newsnight and similar programmes explaining just why filtering is such a bad idea.

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