Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Child protection fail

When we try to protect children, what are we trying to protect them from?  Is it from bad words or bad things?  Growing up too quickly or being prepared for adult life?  It's hard, I know and decisions can be difficult.

But it seems fairly clear that this is not a good way to do it.
A search engine aimed at children, which blocks many common search terms including the words menstruation and balls, has gone viral.
Wait, the search engine has gone viral? I doubt that's what the BBC means.  Here are some other terms the BBC says are blocked (I wonder if the ones they tried says more about journalists than anything else?)

  • Lesbian 
  • Gay
  • Circumcision (but not FGM)
  • Suicide (but not self-harm)
and, weirdly (weird that the journalists conflated the two):

  • Pamela Anderson (but not 50 Shades of Grey)
This is apparently what you'll get if you search for LGBT:

search for lesbian

You see, that's the problem right there.  It's assumed that things to do with LGBT issues are 'unsafe' for children, whatever that means. Blocking access to material on those issues is certainly not safe for children who face those issues and neither is labelling them as an unsafe topic safe for anyone else.  Or for society; it promotes the idea - to LGBT and non-LGBT children and adults alike that there's something indefinably wrong with talking about sexuality and sexual identity in general and certain varieties of each in particular.

But that's just part of a more general problem.  First, of course, there is no way to guarantee that any particular search term is 'safe', however anyone chooses to define it.  So blocking search times can't improve safety.  Second, a moderately determined child could easily find whatever they want with that search engine without using FORBIDDEN SEARCH TERMS.  And, of course, good luck to parents who think their kids can't get past any blocks on other search engines.  

It's a terrible implementation of a terrible idea.  It won't keep children safe (again, however you define it) and it will encourage riskier behaviour than googling.

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