Venn diagram of an internet porn filter

Dr Paul Bernal, the lecturer in IT & media law who has blogged thoughtfully about the UK Government's plan to introduce a "porn filter", has produced a rather natty Venn diagram which hits the nail on the head.

(If you'll pardon the expression)

Venn Diagram by Paul Bernal

Meanwhile, this screen capture of the Daily Mail's website (courtesy of @MarcSettle) announcing their "victory" raises an eyebrow:

victory-daily-mail

(A - possibly Photoshopped - alternative screengrab of the Daily Mail's website, making the point even more clearly is available here)

Will the Daily Mail's "sidebar of shame" escape David Cameron's porn filter? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it hasn't gone unnoticed that controversial Chinese firm Huwaei are the ones behind the pornography filtering system.

Hat tip: Paul Bernal's blog

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7 Responses

  1. M

    July 31, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Nobody is saying a porn filter will cure all ills or that it will be perfect. Cameron said as much in his speech and the government's plans go beyond filtering – they include, for instance, education for both adults and children. Details are sketchy to say the least and they are certainly worthy of scrutiny and tough questioning but at the moment they are being more or less ignored because they don't serve the "you don't understand technology, it's complicated" narrative.

    The reporting of the speech I've seen in the tech press has simultaneously ignored the other bits of the plan and then accused the government of relying on filtering alone.

    In terms of parenting the argument goes that parents are responsible for their own kids (I agree 100%) and they can choose to install their own filtering solution. But if filtering doesn't work what's the point? And if it does work and this is a viable solution if implemented on a per-family basis then why does it suddenly fail when it's implemented by an ISP.

    The point about filtering at the level of the ISP is to provide a degree of herd immunity. The real problem I face is not what my children can access under my roof but what they can get from their peers.

    I like to gamble from time to time. The odd five pound flutter here and there about once a month. I am currently sat in a building where my access to betfair and all manner of other adult content is blocked by an expensive bit of kit that organisations believe works well enough in filtering internet access that they'll pay good money for it. It is not perfect but that lack of absolute perfection does not prevent it being useful (which is, by the way, the standard we apply to most of the things we use).

    If I wanted to I could ssh into a server in London and tunnel my way to betfair in a minute or two. Or use a web proxy and watch it render e v e r s o s l o w l y. But I don't. I don't care that much right now so I don't. It wouldn't block me if I were determined but that's OK because I'm not that determined most of the time. Simply limiting my access to betfair to the times when I am determined to go there would reduce my visits considerably.

    How much extra effort do we have to make under age kids go to before we reduce their porn consumption by 10%, or by 20%. Not much I would suggest.

    The problem – that of loss of innocence and premature sexualisation of under age children – is a cultural problem that will take significant time and effort to address.

    We didn't give up on making smoking and drink driving cultrually undesirable because we knew the very first ad campaign wouldn't fix the problem instantly. It would have been ridiculous to suggest giving up for that reason.

    Filtering is one small part of solving this problem – useful but limited. All it needs to accomplish to begin with is a nudge in the direction away from children being able see whatever they want, whever they want with no effort.

    • David in reply to M.

      July 31, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

      There is third, very important circle, which is missing from the diagram: "People who understand human behaviour" (understand scientifically that is). Such an omission is a common failing when problems relating to cyberspace are being considered

      M proposes a number of hypotheses, which if true, would make the Government's plan rather more reasonable than the Geek Critique seems to suppose.

      But the key phrase is "if true".

      For a sensible plan a proper understanding of both the human and the technical side of things is crucial. Hypotheses about human behaviour in response to intervention (like those suggested by M) need to be tested *before* you finalise your approach (whether by specific research, or by drawing on existing relevant evidence) – otherwise you are just firing at random and hoping that some of your shots may hit the target (and without too much collateral damage).

      I have seen no sign that this has been done, which leads me to think that this is a cart-before-the-horse plan with a high risk of (i) failure in its own terms, and (ii) unintended adverse consequences. If it is a success it will be by mere luck.

      There is a danger too that research will be commissioned retrospectively to provide the intellectual underpinning that is currently lacking, in which case we shall have yet another instance of policy-based evidence making, and our old friend Confirmation Bias will distort rather than enhance our knowledge.

      • Cody in reply to David.

        December 27, 2013 at 1:42 am #

        You, sir, are spot on.

        Human nature is especially important here. Almost all kids will – as they begin to mature – have an interest or will be involved in a relationship (or relationships) and what does that lead to? Ah yes, sexual behaviour and/or interest.

        Otherwise, filters are a joke and they do harm too. Not only is it censorship (which the west seems to like to talk about being this horrible thing yet then want this type of filter in place: should be opt in and not opt out IF and ONLY IF there is any at all at the ISP level – realistically should be family decision as it is their household and their devices) it censors other critical things like the article at the BBC mentions:

        Among the sites TalkTalk blocked as "pornographic" was BishUK.com, an award-winning British sex education site, which receives more than a million visits each year.

        TalkTalk also lists Edinburgh Women's Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre website as "pornographic."

        The company also blocked a programme run by sex education experts, and taught to 81,000 American children, that has been in development for more than 20 years.

        TalkTalk's filter is endorsed by Mr Cameron but it failed to block 7% of the 68 pornographic websites tested by Newsnight.

        Sky's filter fared much better, blocking 99% of sites, but it did block six porn-addiction sites.

        Ouch? How could anyone consider having a filter that blocks any site that is for help to those who have been raped or abused? Disgusting is an understatement! (Even worse is a politician is in fact approving of this filter) Others (like BT) didn't do that great either as shown here:

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25430582

        As for your "If it is a success it will be by mere luck." I would agree and argue that it is even more lucky because what success means is dependent on who you ask. But the fact at least one of the filters blocked abuse victim websites, means it failed already (not even counting ways to circumvent the filter[s]). Basically, these filters are akin to spam filters and the truth of the matter is they are far from perfect: there is very little (more likely it is impossible, from what I've seen, running my own server and also having different mail providers as well) way to have that perfect balance: you either block something that is not meant to be blocked or you miss some that should be blocked. What usually happens however is both at the same time. These filters however are worse than that: what they block is potentially saving someone (or if nothing else helping them during trauma) while spam filters are more convenience (annoying if they fail either way but much less likely to be a tragedy). If anything at least these filters are not aren't like RBLs which home users may not have a way to get around as easily (e.g., if you rely on your ISP for mail and they use a certain RBL then you are out of luck on that part if a host that you want to interact with is on the list). Still, at least TalkTalk has some explaining to do (or should have to) and has a lot of work to do, because it is horrible what they ended up blocking.

        Lastly, one other problem with filtering: it gives a false sense of security. If parents are told this is what they need they are being lied to (because let's be real: no ISP truly thinks the filter is THAT good unless they are really really naive).

  2. nemo nusquam

    July 31, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    And for anyone struggling with the concept of a Venn Diagram:

  3. Jeremy

    July 31, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    We once had a plan for one in Australia. In test scenarios it blocked some unis and a dentist website. Without even beginning to mention political issues and how it may slow the internet down how can someone sane even begin to think about a filter?

    • M in reply to Jeremy.

      July 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      As I understand it all mobile phones in the UK already operate with just such a filter, certainly Vodafone does.

      Also the building I am in at the moment also operates a filter like this (it's a very large and successful software company.

      All domestic customers of Talk Talk in the UK – one of our four biggest ISPs – already have this filter in place today but it is off by default. Parents can choose from a range of different content types they would like to block and can apply time restrictions so that, for instance, porn is unblocked after 9pm and before 6am.

      After the new rules come in the only difference for Talk Talk customers is that the filter they have today will be on by default for *new* customers (just like the mobile phone companies today).

      The situation for existing customers is not yet clear – the ISPs and Gov appear to be fighting it out with the Gov in favour of on-by-default and ISPs in favour of off-by-default.

  4. the geek

    July 31, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    to me this looks like someone or some group or people are trying to profit out of this filter system, imagine how much $$$ will be needed for the implementation ??? remember all government in the world are ESG Enterprise sponsor government, beside there are ways to even bypass the security filters

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