What’s Wrong with Blocking Porn by Default?

What’s Wrong with Blocking Porn by Default?

Facebook lost. It doesn’t happen often. But recently the company has had to apologise on a number of occasions for removing images of women breastfeeding from the network. Why had it blocked them in the first place?

It has a no nudity policy.

Ignoring the dual standards that Facebook seemed to be operating with regards to some much more graphic images of sex and violence, this story tells you pretty much all you need to know about why any attempt to block porn by default — as the government is proposing — is a bad idea.

Let’s be clear, there are three ways that you can block porn from reaching someone’s computer via the Web.

1. Block specific file types.

Don’t want people seeing naughty videos and pictures? Block all videos and pictures. Sounds daft but lots of companies used to do it. These days it would be hard to argue for.

2. Block specific web addresses.

This was the old approach: block any domain that has inappropriate content on it. This is inherently problematic. There are some pretty filthy tumblr pages, YouTube videos, and yes, despite that policy, Facebook pages. How are you going to block all these without vast amounts of collateral censorship? You can’t. And even if you could, most ten-year-olds know how to use a proxy to get around the blocking. Smart filters can detect proxies but then it’s really just an arms race between the blocking and the means to circumvent it.

3. Block specific content

The smartest and most targeted form of blocking is that which tries to analyse the content you are accessing and determine whether it is acceptable. Even with this level of sophistication though the opportunities for over-blocking are enormous. It’s very hard for a machine to discern the difference between a completely innocent and image-rich site and one full of pornography; to know that one tumblr is innocent and another hardcore.

The web is arguably the greatest tool for spreading education and knowledge that we as a species have ever created. Yes, it is also used to spread some stuff that I wouldn’t like my children to see. But my answer to that is not censorship.

The world has many things to which we don’t want to expose our children. But that’s what parenting is about: we keep them out of traffic and away from certain places. We hold their hands and we teach them until they are old enough to make responsible decisions for themselves. If your child isn’t old enough or responsible enough to use the web unmonitored them don’t let them use the web unmonitored.

This isn’t a perfect solution: for all sorts of reasons many parents won’t monitor their kids’ internet use and educate them appropriately. The ubiquity of connected devices certainly makes it hard to do so consistently.

But it is much better than the risk that we end up with a broadly censored internet governed by the prevailing morals of the leaders of the day. Where we and our kids are stopped from accessing thousands of entirely innocent, valuable sites because of overzealous filters.

So if this ridiculous proposal ever comes in as law, I for one will be turning off the filtering. You shouldn’t be ashamed to do the same.

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Future of Business series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Business page.

Tom Cheesewright

https://tomcheesewright.com/futurist-speaker

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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