Adult content blocks on mobile ISPs

Ian Batten igb at
Mon Mar 7 10:36:30 GMT 2011

On 07 Mar 11, at 0914, Andrew Cormack wrote:

> The kitemark for parental control software finally exists, and the BSI reported the first award of it a couple of months ago:

Well, it's pushing the phrase "kitemark" a little: it's PAS74, and warns:

> This Publicly Available Specification is not to be regarded as a British Standard. It will be withdrawn if its content is published in, or as, a British Standard.  

Appendix B, which is a normative "Categories of inappropriate content" to which everything else refers, is precisely the problem.    It appears to be taken from the usual collection of topics that commercial blocking software restricts, and is an absolute minefield of ambiguity.  It boils down to "bad stuff?  I know it when I see it."

"Romeo and Juliet" is a set work for my 12 year old at school, and indeed she'd seen a couple of productions of it by the time she was 11.  I reckon the play, and more concretely the current RSC production that everyone should see as it's great, fails B.1(f) textual descriptions of sexual acts, B.2(f) glamorization of knives, B.3(a) violence on cultural community grounds, B.4(a) use of drugs.  Or doesn't it count in iambs?  Other plays I've taken the kids to include Lear (B.2(b) torture, mutilation), Godot (B.2(c) suicide) and Night Music (B.2(f) again, this time in three-time rather than iambs).

My children have on several occasions been sent home with the instruction to look up some webpage on the grounds that the school's filtering (which appears to be broad-brush by the LEA for everything from KS1 to A Level) blocks it.  Biology, RS, History, now probably English...

Meanwhile, the school's IT department puts hectoring notes in the newsletter to encourage people to run filtering software at home.  

I have been tempted to point this contradiction out --- that were I to run filtering software the school recommends, my children would be unable to do the homework the school sets --- but life is too short.  As no-one, so far as I can tell, runs filtering software, it's all a bit of a red herring.  Are there any parents who do?   I've never met any.

I briefly ran squidguard on my border proxy when the kids were teeny-tiny, but now I just tell them that I can read the browser logs remotely (via OSX "Parental Controls").   My children can distinguish Arial from Helvetica and, following a rather long car journey where the conversation got a little dull, UTC from UT1; searches for fonts and timescales are more likely to lead them into forums with lots of chaotic shouting than any amount of "inappropriate content".

The elephant in the room appears to be that the main concern being aimed at by vendors is parents who wish to discourage their teenage sons from masturbating.  Trying to do that is like trying to stop water from being wet, and makes parents look like Joan Crawford (in deed, not in physique, sadly).  Beyond that, the categories are so vague as to be useless, and assume a unilinear concern on the part of parents to wildly disparate issues.  Even if I were minded to block access to holocaust denial, words cannot express how little I care about whether or not my children can access the odds for the 3:10 at Kempton; only last month I used odds in UK, American and European format for a little home-tutoring on ratios and proportion.



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