Ignorance, bliss, folly – Part 2


My last blog addressed Tim Worstall’s Forbes.com piece in which he completely misrepresented what is happening in the UK in relation to the use of filters by ISPs. I found another example, this time on boing boing, written by no less a person than Cory Doctorow. Since I am a fan of much of his stuff this was very disappointing.

Doctorow’s piece appeared before Worstall’s so maybe Worstall just took his cue from him and didn’t bother to verify anything. Either way it reflects no credit on either of them and reminds us all that a lot that masquerades as journalism on the internet is simply rubbish. It’s hard to imagine such important inaccuracies – that were core to the article – getting past any decent media outlet that adheres to professional standards of journalism and, for example, insists on fact-checking.

What did Doctorow say?

The Great Firewall of Cameron is going live, with all British ISPs defaulting their customers to an “adult content filter” — meaning that you have to call up and say, “I demand pornography!” or all the sites on the blacklist will be off-limits to you. Included in O2’s “parental control blocklist” are such hotbeds of hardcore porn as Slashdot, EFF, Linux Today, Blogspot, No Starch Press, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and, of course, Boing Boing. The “parental control” list is something you have to ask for (not the default-on filter), but it’s being actively marketed to parents as the responsible thing to do. 

First point to make: O2 is not one of the Big Four ISPs. Second point: Doctorow implies a similarity or link between what O2 is allegedly doing and what the ISPs are doing.  There isn’t one but how else do we explain this headline?

UK’s new national firewall: O2’s “parental control” list blocks Slashdot, EFF, and Boing Boing

O2 operates two filters. The standard one applies to everybody who uses its mobile phone network. It is turned on by default and covers adult content. To get it lifted you simply have to go through an age verification process. You do not have to specify that you want access to porn or anything else. The question of why you want the adult bar to be lifted is never asked. O2 confirmed that not one of the sites mentioned in the boing boing blog is blocked by their default on filter.

O2’s second filter is optional – Doctorow does say this but it comes after the large, misleading headline and other inaccurate verbiage, moreover the optional filter is only meant for persons aged 12 or below. That is a rather important qualifier. O2 use a list provided by Rulespace, owned by Symantec,  and it is possible some of the sites Doctorow mentioned were (stupidly) blocked by it because they weren’t on the white list. However, there is a way to ask for them to be added so to call that censorship means you have to use the word in a special way that doesn’t instantly translate for me.

A question of time and something else

Do I have the time to keep up a running commentary on inaccurate reporting of what is happening with filters in the UK? No, but you can bet there’s a great deal more where that nonsense came from. The Big Four ISPs really need to get their act together fast and start pumping out accurate and effective messaging around this otherwise we may find we have a mountain to climb when, in truth, it ought to be a mole hill.  There will be no back to the drawing board scenario any time in the near future.

And while we are on the subject: I might just mention that before Christmas BBC Newsnight broadcast a piece on filters. I have no comments or complaints to make about it but I was rather alarmed to hear the reporter say that at least one source within a Big Four company essentially expected the filters project to fail. Did someone at the BBC make that up? I doubt it so if anyone in a position of responsibility within any of the Big Four seriously believes that to be true I trust they will do their best to resolve the matter in an open way instead of indulging in off-the-record briefings that have a habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

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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