From the 15th July 2019, a new law comes into place which aims to stop under 18s accessing ‘adult’ sites. Find out more in this BBC News article.
This might sound like a good idea. And it is. Stopping kids from viewing stuff they shouldn’t can only be a good thing. But what’s not so good is the way that the UK Government is implementing this (or the complete lack of Government lead implementation!)
A friend on twitter was asking about this law and I tried to sum things up in a couple of tweets:
Like most gov lead IT/web things, it’s a good idea in principal, but is a total mess in its implementation. There’s not an official solution, some sites are working together on some kind of ‘pass/id’ thing but there will probably end up being several systems…
Basically it won’t work. It takes less than 5 mins to sign up with a free VPN to appear like you’re coming from a different country. There’s also a huge potentials for info leaks, etc.
Rather than me writing more about the details of the law (and why it probably won’t work…) here are some good articles on the topic:
- Why the UK’s porn block is one of the worst ideas ever [from Wired]
- Government Sets Tough Age Verification Rules for Internet Porn Ban [from ISPreview]
- UK porn block: What is it and will it work? [from the BBC Science Focus Magazine]
- UK online pornography age block triggers privacy fears [from The Guardian]
So basically, at best it will mostly likely be a complete mess!
It will also be very easy to get round using a VPN (virtual private network – a way of connecting to sites on the web where your actual IP/web address can’t be seen). I’m typing this over a VPN. I use a VPN for general web privacy and security.
So what could/would work better?
In 2018, Baroness Shields, UK Minister for Internet Safety, said:
Just as we do in the offline world, we want to make sure that online content that is only suitable for adults is not freely accessible to children.
Again, that’s a great idea. And/but there’s already a system in place designed to do just that!
Since 2014/2015 most UK ISPs have offered ‘adult’ filtering services already through a semi-voluntary system called ‘Active Choice Plus’ (although it’s often called something else in ISP’s control panels).
However, I’m sure that investing more in a system like this would have been a better way of stopping children accessing material they shouldn’t, rather than introducing [a range of different] age checks, with potentially huge privacy and even blackmail problems (and apparently legal challenges alone could cost £10 million in the first year [from The Register])!
If the Government worked with ISPs (and spent that £10 million…) to bring in a more co-ordinated and sensible filtering system, it could work!
Yes, there would be issues with any filtering system as well; it might still have false positives and could lead to privacy concerns re-freedoms of speech, etc. but at least you’d be working with a system lead and run by the ISPs themselves. (And you could turn it off if you wanted and/or still use a VPN… You can also use a service like OpenDNS for web filtering.)
But under the new laws, ISPs will have to pick the pieces by blocking any non compliant adult sites anyway, so why not just work with ISPs to do the job properly in the first place?!
The other key to this is USER EDUCATION. The current ISP filters aren’t widely used, because people don’t understand what they do and how they could help.
Child Friendly Web
If the whole system was called something like “Child Friendly Web” you can properly educate people to what that means and how the central system could work. All UK ISPs could also call it the same thing and have the same logo, etc.
(UK Government, you can have the the name “Child Friendly Web”, I’ve even made you a logo…)
Having better ‘easy to use’ web filters wouldn’t be a complete solution, but if the goal is to “make sure that online content that is only suitable for adults is not freely accessible to children”, I’m sure they would work better than an age check system that seems doomed to fail…