Friday, 4 July 2014

The bluntest instrument!

To block "blogs" or not?

That is the question faced by parents with one of the more flexible blocking options they can choose with a supplier like Talk Talk retail. Many ISPs offer very crude on or off options but Talk Talk have quite a few choices.

Even so, the options they include have a range of categories, but one of them includes "blogs", yes or no?

How the hell can a parent decide if all blogs are to be allowed or not?

There are blogs by teenage kids talking about school dinners. There are blogs about guns and terrorism. There are blogs about sexuality, and teenage stress and support groups. There is everything in between.

Blocking social media is often an option, so lets stop kids being engaged with other kids while they grow up - that'll fix 'em, surely?

How the hell is a parent meant to decide how to use this huge blunt instrument to restrict what their kids see? And why? And this is one of the more flexible selections that ISPs offer (well done Talk Talk on that at least).

This is total nonsense. It is nanny state gone mad.

Even if this made some sense, the day they turn 18 they can see anything they want, and it will all be a surprise for their cotton wool wrapped minds. That can't possibly go wrong.

Thank deity/sanity that the law has not stopped ISPs offering parents an unfiltered Internet where they can choose to actually supervise and educate their own children properly.


  1. This can't possibly be "nanny state gone mad" - the state isn't doing any nannying in this case since you point out that this is an *option* for the parents. Whilst I'm completely opposed to filtering by default, I see providing flexible filtering options that parents can enable as a good thing.

    As for blocking all blogs being a blunt instrument: yes it is, but maybe in some situations it's actually a reasonable thing to do. The thing you're not accounting for is that not all kids are equal: blocking a teenage kid from all blogs is obviously a crazy idea, but does a 6 year old, for example, need access to any blogs? (Arguably a 6 year old should probably be supervised anyway, but even so, disabling access to any stuff they definitely won't want to access is going to improve the chances that they can't accidentally stumble upon something questionable whilst causing very little overblocking).

    I'm very much in favour of parents having the tools to parent their children as they see fit rather than a single one-size-fits-all "protect the children" function defined by the government. Of course, the parents need to keep on top of the situation and ensure they change the filtering controls as their kids get older rather than setting them once and expecting the filters for an preschooler to be still suitable when they're in the 6th form.

    The key problem (which you touched on in another post) is that these filters apply to the whole household, which is patently stupid. It is completely reasonable to want the pre-school kids protected at the same time as the parents watching porn; or at the less extreme: protecting young kids by blocking blogs at the same time as allowing older kids or the parents to access them. I see 3 possible solutions to this:
    1. Stick the filtering server on the customer's premises and identify the devices by IP address - kids' devices can go through the filtering whilst parents' devices bypass it. This is potentially pretty expensive though and not many people are going to want a server buzzing away all the time (and the associated power bill).
    2. Don't do any NAT so the ISP's filters can identify devices by IP address. Obviously this isn't going to work with the shortage of IPv4 addresses.
    3. Have smarter routers on the customer's premises that can tag the traffic so the ISP knows what device it came from and therefore what filtering it needs. The router could identify the device based on IP address, which wireless SSID it connects to, etc.

    Of course, shared devices are always a problem too :)

    [Disclaimer: I run Opendium, who develop filtering and auditing systems for schools, so I probably have a completely different perspective on this stuff to you. However, we don't see ourselves as censors, but rather providers tools that can be tailored by the people who are actually on the ground, to help keep the internet a useful and age-appropriate tool.]

    1. I think you have hit several key points here. Even as a choice for parent - at present it is a choice fort he parents not to see any blogs either. That is where it all falls down IMHO.

    2. I should probably also point out that pretty much any solution is going to involve the parents actually understanding something about how the internet works - people want a "plug it in and forget about it, no setup" solution and that just isn't going to happen (at least, not without someone other than the parents making the parenting decisions!).

      This is a big problem, of course - in my experience, very few of the general public have any interest in learning how technical stuff works - computers are magic, and magic always just works without any need to use your brain, right? :)