How do we protect our children from online porn? That was the question posed to a panel at Google’s Bigtent event today.
The panel was what you might expect from a setpiece type debate such as this. The reactionary journalist (Amanda Platell) versus the civil liberties campaigner (Kirsty Hughes). The corporation that is terribly concerned (Google’s Sarah Hunter). The ISP present (Talktalk’s Andrew Hearney) was the only one who wanted to offer practical help to parents, plugging his Homesafe product.
Predictably, the panel members preferred to talk across each other with dogma rather than address any points of substance. It wasn’t a very constructive or informative conversation. My thoughts on the main points raised:
Home network filtering seems like a sensible idea for parents who want to control what goes up and down their broadband connections. It isn’t perfect, as it’s list based and will result in some false positives and other sites slipping through the net. I don’t see why those lists can’t be transparent to the end user (the parent), even if they might be the intellectual property of Symantec or some other provider. Sites can also be whitelisted or blacklisted by the end user. But just because it isn’t a perfect system, it could make parental control substantially easier.
You are censoring your children if you use a product like Homesafe, of that there is no doubt. But censoring children in a private home is perfectly fine; they don’t have the same rights as adults. So long as a child’s welfare is the moral and legal responsibility of an adult, that’s how it goes.
Pornographers’ freedom of speech is not harmed by blocking their content at the household level, if that is a conscious choice by the household. Just as when I enter a newsagent and choose not to buy the Daily Mail, I’m not threatening Amanda Platell’s freedoms either. Only when censorship on legal content becomes opt-out or forbidden by companies or governments are rights infringed. The crowd at the Bigtent overwhelming agreed, rightly, that primary legislation was not the answer to this issue.
It’s true household level filtering is open to abuse, such as a controlling husband blocking his wife from communicating on social networks. But all tools can be used as weapons by aggressors on their victims, it doesn’t follow that those tools are causing the aggression.
What the panel didn’t really address, but mercifully the intelligent audience did, was that of education. Both of parents and children. Technology can only go some way to protect our children and the rest of us from the ills of the world.
Despite all the developments in car design and town planning, the safest way to cross the road is still to follow the Green Cross Code.