Porn filters: if you need directions to Essex, Middlesex, or Sussex… forget it.

Posted by: on Dec 20, 2013 | No Comments

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In an effort to curtail “poisonous websites” that “corrode childhood”, David Cameron has actively encouraged web firms to build in filters which will stop children “stumbling across hardcore legal pornography”. It seems like a vote winner and this week BT launched its first anti porn filter. Virgin has a pilot programme ahead of a full launch early in 2014, and Sky’s was turned on a month ago. TalkTalk’s filter started in May 2011.

Thats the good news. The bad news is that, not only are default filters failing to block hardcore porn-hosting sites, they are also actively blocking out sex education websites too. TalkTalk’s filter, for example, failed to block 7% of 68 pornographic websites and it lists Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre website as “pornographic.”  TalkTalk also blocked BishUK.com, an award-winning British sex education site, which receives more than a million visits each year.

There is clearly some way to go before this well-intentioned system becomes operable but in the mean time, here’s 10 things you need to know before you opt out of a porn filter.

1. One in seven children saw sexual images online in the past year, according to a study of 25,000 children across Europe which was carried out by The London School of Economics in 2011. (EU Kids Online)

2. Age limits on social networking sites don’t work – 38% of 9 to 12-year-olds have a social networking profile. (EU Kids Online)

3. Most online contacts are people children know face-to-face; 9% of children have met up with someone they first encountered online, but most didn’t go alone and only 1% had a bad experience. (EU Kids Online)

4. Predictably, older teenagers use porn more. An online study of 4,600 young people aged 15 to 25 years carried out by Gert Martin Hald of the University of Copenhagen found that more than 88% of young men and nearly 45% of young women had used pornography in the past 12 months. Personal dispositions-specifically, sexual sensation seeking-were found to be a more important predictor of sexually adventurous, or risk taking behavior, than the consumption of sexually explicit material.

5. A 2011 Portman NHS Trust study of 18-24 year olds males found that those who looked at porn for 10 hours or more a week were worried about it influencing their behaviour. However, only 4% of the males in the study had problematic porn habits and frankly, studying porn use in a percentage of the population who are generally underemployed and often have far too much time on their hands is hardly representative of men as a whole.

6. Given the number of screens most kids now have access to, the only way to protect young people from the worst excesses of porn is to explain to them that an interest in sex is natural, and healthy, but porn is to normal sex, what Barbie and Ken are to normal humans.

7. Previously, there was a risk that younger teenagers who searched for porn featuring kids of their own age might unintentionally violate child pornography regulations. New filters will flag up search terms that are illegal.

8. Fewer than one in three 11 to 16 year-olds say they can change internet filter preferences and most say parental action to limit their internet activity is helpful.

9. You need to weigh up whether your porn filter will deny your teenager access to crucial advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. Recent ONS statistics estimate that 43% of people over the age of 16 use the internet to seek health advice and information.

10. And if you need directions to Essex, Middlesex or Sussex… forget it.

 

Follow Suzi Godson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suzigodson

 

 

Pornography filters used by major internet service providers are blocking websites offering sex education and advice on sexual health and porn addiction, the BBC has learned.

The four major internet companies have started to roll out so-called porn filters to their users.

BT launched its filter this week, Virgin has a pilot programme ahead of a full launch early in 2014, and Sky’s was turned on a month ago.

TalkTalk’s filter started in May 2011.

Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed “family-friendly” filters and said they were important to stop children “stumbling across hardcore legal pornography”.

But BBC’s Newsnight has discovered all the major ISPs that have launched full default filters are also failing to block hardcore porn-hosting sites.

All new customers will be prompted to decide whether to opt in or out, while existing customers of major ISPs will be presented with an “unavoidable choice” about whether to sign up.

 BT launched a porn filter for users earlier this week

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.

Advertising campaignBT blocked sites including Sexual Health Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline, and Reducing The Risk, a site which tackles domestic abuse.

In the new year the four major ISPs will fund a £25m advertising campaign to explain the filters and other aspects of children’s safety online.

The filters were brought in following increased parental awareness of the ease with which children can access pornography online.

Victoria Shotbolt, chief executive of the Parent Zone, said: “It’s great that the four ISPs have got together and are doing an awareness-raising campaign. But it isn’t even starting to be enough.

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It’s really frustrating because I’m trying to provide a sex education site for young people and it’s hard enough directing young people to good quality information on the internet”

Justin Hancock BishUK

“We’re focusing so heavily on filters and all of the ISPs having them and public wi-fi having filters that the message getting through to parents is that those filters will do the job.”

Justin Hancock runs BishUK and was not aware his site was being blocked by some filters until he was alerted by Newsnight.

He said: “It’s really frustrating because I’m trying to provide a sex education site for young people and it’s hard enough directing young people to good quality information on the internet.

Over-blocking problem”They might fix my site in the short-term but what about all the other sites that are out there for young people, not just sex education sites… who are TalkTalk to say what is allowed and isn’t?”

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety has a working group to discuss over-blocking.

A TalkTalk spokesman said: ” Sadly there is no silver bullet when it comes to internet safety and we have always been clear that no solution can ever be 100%. We continue to develop HomeSafe and welcome feedback to help us continually improve the service.”

A Sky spokesman said: “We know that no one single technology currently provides all the answers. That’s why we have a quick and easy way for misclassified sites to be unblocked. Any Sky home has the ability to fully customise their filters.”

A BT spokesman said: “Categorisations are constantly updated to keep pace with changing content on the internet and we will investigate any concerns and make changes as necessary. BT Parental Controls can be customised to suit each individual family’s needs.”

Find out more about this issue on Newsnight on BBC2 at 22:30 GMT on Wednesday 18 December.

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