Internet protection: Gordon still doesn’t get it

Gordon Brown may be many things, but unintelligent doesn’t seem to be one of them. Why, then, is he still repeating the mantra that ISPs have to take responsibility for what children can access on computers.

The oft-repeated analogy is it is akin to the Royal Mail deciding what letters are suitable for you to receive. Except that’s a bit simplistic, because the technical reality is a hell of a lot more complicated. But the principle is the same, roughly. Tiscali, my ISP, are no more culpable if I decide to look at terror-related materials than Royal Mail or TNT or any other courier service is if I then print out said manual and send it through the post.

It would make more sense to get computer manufacturers to preload child safety software onto the machine – after all, that’s the tool the kid will be using. But that’s not without problems or trade issues.

As for the rest of today’s Byron report, well, as Bobbie Johnson says,most of what it calls for is already “available in abundance”. Or just bafflingly vague as to how it’ll be enforced.

Take the computer game grading issue. Ok, so a clearer classification system isn’t a daft thing, but from my own experience many years ago as a sales assistant in a computer games store, most parents do have a fair idea of what a computer game is about. It’s much like the blurb on the back of a DVD, plus screen shots. Computer games really aren’t that hard to understand.

The internet’s a different matter. Much less structured and plenty of sites that if you’ve never used, could appear baffling. Fair enough. But let’s not equal not understanding something with being dangerous. So, yes, Dr. Bryon’s loose call for better education is sensible, although could have probably been said in a lot less words and for a lot less money.

As for how she, or the government, plan to regulate social networking sites… well, your guess is as good as mine. Social networking covers a broad area, and even MySpace and Facebook have differences that wouldn’t be easy to shoehorn into a one-size-fits-all approach. Is she going to include social bookmarking like is there – after all, it’s easy to bookmark a page that could be offensive or inappropriate for a child. How about Twitter? Or Netvibes, now there’s a social networking element in Ginger? Nope, I can’t even see how that would work.

Actually, social networking sites are just one of the many questions in the report that seem to struggle when you ask the two questions ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’. Nope, I’ve got lost again here, sorry.

And behind it all, there’s still a tiny part of me that worries it’s still just a short step to the government putting mandatory filters and blocking sites on the premise of protecting the children, and if you’re wanting to remove the filters then, well, there must be something dodgy about it.

Paranoid? Me? Perhaps not if I lived in Australia.

UPDATE: Byron outlines how the codes might work. I’m pretty darn sure that most of these codes or privacy protections already exist in some form or other. Has she actually ever used a social networking site?

Certainly, Facebook’s uppped its provacy control and you’ve got a certain amount of control. MySpace, too, has basic privacy settings which sort of fit this criteria. Can’t speak for Bebo, as I’ve hardly touched it.

Follow up thought 1: Why all the focus on Facebook? That’s got a naturally higher demographic. So at what point do we stop treating children as children and treat them like adults? 16? If 16, why? What’s to say 15 year olds aren’t capable of not being nannied?

Nope, I’ve just confused myself again here.

Follow up thought 2: The internet, and social networking, isn’t static or slow-moving in how it develops. It’s not like print or TV. The codes would have to be pretty fluid. After all, 18 months ago Facebook was little known outside of university networks. Add another 12 months onto that and MySpace was a curiosity.

The point being, there’s bound to be a site that springs up soon that grows organically and isn’t covered by the code. How does that fit in? Either the codes have got to be so vague as to be fluid or so complicated they take into account something that doesn’t exist yet. Neither of those problems have ever stopped this bunch of politicians before, mind.


Unity gets justifiably angry at a couple of very stupid comments.


2 Responses to “Internet protection: Gordon still doesn’t get it”

  1. 1 Christopher White March 28, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Royal Mail do do that though, I think. They can open up anything they suspect to contain anything illegal.

    But yeah. Still stupid.

  2. 2 Gary Andrews March 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Yeah, that’s why it’s a far from perfect analogy. It’s probably more akin to getting Royal Mail employees to open nearly ever letter as opposed to just the ones they think are a little bit iffy.

    Basically, if China had said that they were introducing censorship to protect children, they’d have probably got away with it.

    Or something.

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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