Out of sight, out of mind springs to mind having spent some time reading the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report into online safety (so large it comes in two volumes (part I covers the discussion, part II is the evidence presented to the committee).
The report three large areas, child abuse content, adult content and social media. In the arena of child abuse imagery the report acknowledges the clear consensus that cracking down on this area is welcomed by everyone and has global support. The area of adult content is much more contentious, and the UK is taking an increasingly divergent view to some other European countries. The year has seen network based parental controls available from the four largest broadband providers in the UK, but the report makes it clear that this is considered just the first step and much more is being considered.
"ISPA is proud of the role the internet industry has played in tackling illegal content, and over the last year support for the Internet Watch Foundation has grown with significant funding for a new increased proactive role. We are pleased the committee supported our call for Government to properly resource CEOP and those charged with tackling illegal content."ISPA comments on tacking child abuse content
The report discusses a variety of options to ensure that children (anyone under 18) does not stumble across adult content beyond the current optional filters, including enforcing stricter usage of age verification for sites with adult content, through confirmation of age via possession of a credit card (which may mean some debit cards are inadequate) through to a new personal digital identity management service ran by an independent party that has access to the electoral roll. The difficulty with both is that the Internet is a global party, and how do you force a Dutch site operator to apply these conditions to other EU residents who just happen to use the site in the UK?
The reports answer appears to be more site blocking, i.e. where adult content sites do not adhere to UK policy they are blocked from access by anyone in the UK. Suddenly with this discussion of blocking what is classified as adult content becomes paramount, a great many 18 certificate films that feature no pornography feature scenes that if portrayed in a porn film would see anyone possessing as guilty of owning extreme pornography. There are some voices questioning how useful blocking would be and that includes the IWF.
" Site blocking is highly unlikely to be a suitable approach for adult pornography or violent material much of which is legal (at least if it is unavailable to minors) and which is prevalent on the internet. However, blocking should be considered as a last resort for particularly harmful adult websites that make no serious attempt to hinder access by children. "Internet Watch Foundation on Site Blocking
If we are not careful the UK is racing towards a scenario where the Internet is a U-certificate environment, and the potential for damage to the digital economy is potentially very large. One simple example, if you turn on the Sky parental controls to the PG level you will suddenly find you are unable to sign into Xbox Live on your games console, the only error message being to check the Internet connection. This is important because to use any of the streaming TV apps on the Xbox you need to be signed into Xbox Live.
The above content blocking example may seem simplistic, but imagine a parent who has purchased a new games console for a teenagers birthday, but has controls set at a level to safeguard younger children. Do they restrict the teenager to only using the games console when the younger children have gone to bed? Do they spend time and possibly money calling the ISP helpline - it is barriers like this that will make the UK look a difficult place to operate as a games developer.