The government’s claim they can “protect the kiddies from teh Internet” with a magic filter is bound to be crap, because every review of said filters has revealed flaws. Many, many flaws. But perhaps this time things are different because, y’know, technology advances?
Peter Bowditch downloaded Integard, one of the filters us taxpayers are paying for through the government’s NetAlert program, and was unimpressed.
Setting it for “older teenager”, because that’s what’s in his house, he found enough pages of his own site were being blocked for adult content, violence or grossness and obscenity to make him wonder. Looking further afield, it was just as bad.
False positives are always a problem with any filtering software. When I found that access to the millions of mailing lists at groups.yahoo.com was blocked at the domain level because the whole project was classed as a dating service I started to have doubts. When I found that the tens of thousands of t-shirt and coffee mug shops at www.cafepress.com were unavailable because of a blanket ban for drug references I started to giggle hysterically. (My daughter suggested that someone must have been selling t-shirts with pictures of marijuana leaves on them, something which I thought had gone out of fashion at about the time the ‘web was invented.) When I was told that a blog page discussing Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize was blocked for adult content I decided that I had had enough and this piece of rubbish could safely be deleted from my computer. I don’t think I will bother testing the other offerings from the government. I can only stand so much pain.
As Bowditch points out:
Concern about net nasties is nothing new, and when I wrote a book about the Internet ten years ago I researched pornography because I was inevitably asked about it whenever I did a radio interview promoting the book. My usual advice to worried parents on the other end of talkback lines was that the best approach was not high walls but communication and consultation, just as it should be for the other dangers of youth like sex and drugs. Talk to them, set out the rules, be prepared for them to occasionally fail to live up to expectations, and be there when they needed you. Much like life, really.