Well, it is in then news that the government want blocks on porn to protect children. We are talking legal content being blocked by ISPs, but obviously think of the children and clearly you don't want kids accessing porn? (I do have 5 kids)
Is there a problem to be solved anyway? i.e. does the fact that teenagers have seen porn actually affect them in later life in some detrimental way. I think the problem with answering that is finding any teenager than has not seen porn in order to compare. I am pretty sure younger children are not interested, but you want them not to find stuff by accident as they may find it confusing, distressing, or just icky. Thankfully safe search on the likes of Google already address this for most cases anyway. For older children, they will find a way past any blocking anyway.
The idea seems to be that some of the major ISPs will provide some degree of parental controls, perhaps at the network level. It seems from the ISPs that this is likely to be a free service they offer. Some ISPs already offer such services anyway, so why this is news is unclear, but it seems the big ISPs will be offering this. I say blocking at the network level, but actually the technicalities seem not to have been worked out.
Network level blocking for this is not a good idea technically - for a start, at the network level, there is no way to know who in a household is accessing the Internet. This means blocks will almost certainly be applicable to an entire household. That is going to cause all sorts of problems as the level of blocking that is wanted will be wildly different within a typical family. In practice, the best way to manage any parental controls is on the machines themselves, that is if you think technology is the solution anyway rather than good parenting, or simple policies like young kids only getting to use the Internet in supervised/communal areas.
Not just porn will be blocked, as there is already talk of blocking gambling sites and other adult content. This has all sorts of side effects - apart from the fact that the blocks may apply to an entire household, depending how it is done, the blocks may apply to sites that offer help on gay/lesbian/bi issues, and the like. This is a problem where teenagers do want advice and help without their parents knowing.
What about monitoring? One of the aspects of many existing parental control tools on the PC itself is they not only block, but monitor, allowing parents to see what has been accessed. Well, when you are talking a 5 year old, maybe that is completely acceptable, but what of when it is a 15 year old? or simply other adult members of the household?
Clear lines of responsibility should really be maintained here. An ISP is not responsible for blocking or monitoring the usage of their service - that is something that is well established in many countries and in the EU. ISPs choosing to offer an extra optional service is clearly sensible, but it is worrying that the government think this should be the ISPs responsibility in the first place. Parental controls are the responsibility of the parent not the ISPs, else we really are talking about a nanny state in the real sense.
Blocking is not going to work anyway. One of the key things is that, unless you start working white lists where only specific approved Internet access is allowed (approved list of web sites), no blocking will actually be effective. Parents will just get a false sense of security. Kids will use ssl, vpns and proxies. They do not need to be smart to do this, just type what their mates on facebook tell them to type.
So really, what is the point in all of this actually? It is not clear there is a problem to solve, and it is clear this will not solve the problem. It is all politics for the sake of it, and that is just depressing.
So, well done for large ISPs offering some options. Lets hope they are sensible in what they offer and that it does not have any of the nasty side effects. Personally I would rather see some good PC based tools and good education for parents on what they do, how to install them, and what the side effects are, and actually the ISP simply not involved in this.
Where do A&A stand? Well we have a clear policy - we provide a clean IP connection and we route packets. That is it. We don't monitor or restrict that traffic. When you sign up you are asked to confirm that you want a clean, uncensored, Internet connection. If you don't, then you want another ISP instead. You can, of course, install your own controls on your own machines, or simply talk to your kids and be a good parent rather than try to rely on technology...