A good news bulletin


A couple of things have gone right lately. Here is the news.

Shorter is better

Perhaps the biggest cheer will follow the announcement that, with some determination, I am embarking on a new policy of trying to keep these blogs shorter.

No doubt occasionally I will have to abandon it. In defence of my previous prolixity (a) many of my readers are not from the UK or elsewhere in Europe consequently quite a lot cannot be taken for granted and has to be explained at a level of detail which I appreciate some others might find irksome and (b) a goodly number of those same readers have little or no technical background or knowledge of the history of how some of the issues have developed or changed over time. That means I have to start discussing certain topics at the very beginning. This usually also means more words rather than fewer are needed.

There is a third reason, of course. Frequently I am working out what I think as I write. As you will have observed that can be a painfully slow and tortured process.

WiFi on the London Underground

I have written before about 02’s free public WiFi system for central London. It is being rolled out in time for the Olympics. McDonald’s hamburger chain has had free WiFi in every branch for some time. Another big offering is just getting, not so much off the ground as under it.

On 7th June Virgin’s pre-Olympics free WiFi service on London’s Tube finally started. It began at King’s Cross and Warren Street. By the time you read this Oxford Circus, Green Park, Victoria and Euston will be live with a further 74 stations coming online before the first starter’s gun is fired.

All three of these public WiFi services have filtering of illegal content and legal adult content built in by default. Neither of these defaults can be changed or lifted although, after the Olympics, Virgin say they will convert to a paid for service and then different rules may apply to the adult content element.

Anyway what each of these three players are offering at the moment in respect of WiFi broadly mimics what the UK mobile phone networks have been doing since 2004. Since two out of the three companies concerned are mobile phone operators they get ten out of ten for consistency. Bravo to all three, in particular a hearty bravo to Virgin and Transport for London for deciding to join the club and sustain the momentum. The way Virgin has done it is a bit odd but I have tested it and it worked. The names of porn web sites and written details of what they contained were visible in Google but if you clicked on any of the links no images appeared. I’d say that warrants a 9.2 out of 10. With any luck all those visitors to the Olympics will not now leave our shores certain that the UK is a floating porn fest.

However, in many quarters, both within the UK and elsewhere in the EU, there is still considerable resistance to the idea that public WiFi providers have any sort of responsibility to filter anything. If they stick to that it seriously undermines the EU Code on adult content on mobiles as well as any national codes that might exist within Member States.

Some companies e.g. Vodafone, have shown the way by developing Apps which can control practically everything a mobile phone handset can do. Illegal content is blocked anyway but the Vodafone Guardian App can be set to block a wide range of adult content and other functions.

Even if every mobile phone company did the same as Vodafone it would not obviate the need for public WiFi providers to take complementary action. This is because there are many other portable devices which are not mobile phones that also have built in WiFi e.g. games consoles. These are very popular with children. Seamless safety has to be the watchword.

I will return to this theme. There is at least one major High Street brand that seems determinedly indifferent to the question of whether or not it is right to provide access to porn on its premises. Watch this space.

In the light of these developments I feel very encouraged that the working group UKCCIS has established to look into the issue and the discussions taking place at EU level within the CEO Coalition will have an easier passage. WiFi coverage is now firmly established as part of the online safety equation.

Blocking pornography on the Kindle

I also wrote recently about how easy it was to access porn via a Kindle. I would like to think someone at Amazon saw my blog and acted accordingly but it’s probably just a coincidence. Anyway the company is going to add controls to at least some versions of the Kindle. These will allow parents to prevent pornographic books being bought via the ebook reader and to limit what at least one of the (two) preinstalled browsers can get at and display. Since Amazon have conceded the point I suppose it will only be a matter of time before they apply this policy to all of their Kindle product line.

The report I read does not make it clear if the browser concerned is Google’s or their own, but if they are going to do it for one browser logic suggests they ought to do it for both. Again, watch this space.

Just over 900 words. Doesn’t seem natural.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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