Glenn Pegden shared an interesting link with the e-mint community recently. It was a blog post on the Open Rights Group website by Jim Killock, focusing on efforts in the United Kingdom to launch an ISP-based network filter that allows parental controls to be enabled, which block certain types of websites.
They allege that, according to ISP sources, the system may function like this: a customer will be required to denote whether they want a parental filter set to on. Those sources indicate that it will be on by default. Then they are allowed to select specific types of content that they would like to block. All of which would be on by default.
The ones they list include pornography, violent materials, extremist and terrorist related content, anorexia and eating disorder websites, suicide related websites, alcohol, smoking, web forums, esoteric material and web blocking circumvention tools.
Did any of those jump out to you? In particular, one did for me. Web forums.
I should say, I don’t take the hard line against this sort of filtering that many do. In fact, I see it as a convenience for it to be offered by the ISP. Parental controls have existed in other forms for many years. An ISP-based system could be more convenient and cost effective. I also don’t have a problem with people blocking all forums from their experience or preventing their children from visiting them. I strongly believe that is their right.
The problematic part of this for me is that I believe you should have to opt-in to use such a service. Prompt current customers and new customers with the option. Allow them to easily enable it if they want. But don’t have it enabled by default, don’t enable blocking of forums by default because many will simply leave the default without reading it.
On some level, that’s their fault and I don’t hold the ISPs or even the government responsible for that. But it could be very unnecessarily harmful to people – and to online communities, since that is what this site is focused on – if it were simply blocked by default.
We also don’t know how they define “web forums.” Likely, it doesn’t include Facebook. If not, why not? Forums can be dangerous for children – the internet can be dangerous for children – but forums are just another social website and it is hard to understand why they are being systematically singled out over other sites. In fact, I was surprised (and kind of delighted, if I’m being fully honest) to see the word “forums” used instead of “social networking” or “social media.” But still, why are they being targeted specifically?
My hope is that, in the end, that even if this functionality is offered (and, again, I have no issue with that), that web forums are not blocked by default, that you are given a full, honest, clear chance to opt-in, if you’d like and the ability to block whatever you want. That you make a conscious, purposeful choice, rather than it simply being off by default.
For the comments: Please, I would ask that anyone responding to this post in the comments to please stay laser focused on the topic of this article and not on general political comments, on bashing politicians or political parties. This is a professional industry publication focused on online communities. Let’s stick to how it is relevant to what we do. I greatly appreciate it.