Monday, 26 January 2015

Cameron’s firewall blocks abuse charities

Remind me who said this would happen? Oh, that’s right, it was everyone ever.

Sky and TalkTalk are for some reason doing what David Cameron wants and implementing default porn filters.  As I understand it, in Sky’s case, the new default applies only to new customers, who will have to specifically opt in to porn if they want it. Existing users can continue to feast their eyes on whatever they like without having to sign anything.  As if it would like to outdo Sky on terribleness of behaviour, TalkTalk will apply the filter to all accounts, new and extant, unless the account holders specifically opt-in to porn. That means that existing users will have to navigate to an opt-in page, read the terms and conditions, and click something if they want to keep getting the service they signed up and already paid for.

BT and Virgin are being ‘urged’ (whatever that means) to follow suit.  Virgin has been advertising it’s optional porn filter via on-screen pop-ups for months, but less than 10% of its customers use the filter, which suggests that most people don’t want it. This is backed up by other evidence:

A report from Ofcom last July said that on average only 13% of new internet users opted to turn on filtering software that was offered to them.

So let people opt out of being able to see porn if they want, rather than the other way around.  A list of people who have opted to suckle on their broadband unfiltered seems dangerous to me.  It seems in particular a very good way to generate statistics that suggest whatever a government wants.  For example, that internet access be even more tightly controlled.

Another problem with all filters is the false positives. Things that aren’t porn will inevitably be blocked and some of them will be resources people need to understand sex and sexuality, learn how to protect themselves in a sexual relationship and how to get help when they are sexually abused.

And it’s not just sex that’s filtered, of course. It’s drugs. And it’s whatever a current government decides it doesn’t like.  I hope it’s clear how dangerous this idea is. But in the meantime, there’s this:

A website discussing the legalisation of cannabis found itself blocked, as did several small wine dealers, said Pam Cowburn of the transparency campaignOpen Rights Group. Last year research by the group found that 54 registered charities had their websites blocked by one or another of the filters.

Several were offering support and services to young people escaping abuse or alcohol dependency. One such charity, Alcohol Support, based in Aberdeen, called it a “big brother” approach.

“It’s still a problem; it isn’t being tackled in the rush to block what is deemed unsuitable.

Another example of a ‘security’ countermeasure that has nothing to do with the actual threat. And there’ll inevitably be false negatives, too: sex and drugs will get through any filter with a bit of practice.

Vicki Shotbolt, CEO and founder of social enterprise project the ParentZone, said: “Filters are at best a distraction from the most important way to look after your family online.” Open conversations and keeping informed were the way forward, she said.

She’s more charitable than I.  Such filters are at best an abdication of responsibility.

Here’s responsibility: I won’t teach anyone how to get past filters, adult or child. But I’ll sure as shit teach anyone who asks how to find out how to do it.

I’ll bet half my kingdom and my cat’s hand in marriage that I’ll never need to.

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