netmagNews

UK web ‘porn’ filtering could damage web industry

Danger of inefficiencies, blocking and brain drain

British prime minister David Cameron has further stated the intention of his government to lock down UK internet access, as reported by Open Rights Group.

Cameron said that, by the end of 2013, family-friendly filters will be automatically selected on all ISP connections. He's also called for certain search terms to be blacklisted entirely.

Despite this, MPs and advocates of web censorship remain reluctant to state exactly what will be blocked, and there has been seemingly willful conflation of wide-ranging content types, such as child abuse images (already illegal and blocked by the IWF and search engines), legal pornography and other content deemed ‘offensive’ by as-yet-unknown yardsticks.

Speaking to .net, experience designer Aral Balkan called the plans “unworkable” and said they were a very real danger to the web industry: “If such filters are only in place in the UK, and certain words effectively can’t be used, that puts British sites at a disadvantage versus in countries where these filters don’t exist. And the very fact we’d have to think about and work around these things will create inefficiencies.”

He was also concerned about feature-creep, noting that “pornography or ‘protecting children’ is always the first step", but countries adopting such censorship policies end up going further. If the character of the web in the UK is too heavily damaged, Balkan worried we’ll see a “talent migration of people who believe in the ideals of the open web, who'll go to places that are more suitable and friendly to open principles”.

Those arguing against government plans have themselves come in for criticism, but Balkan said no-one’s against protecting children: “This just isn’t the right way to do it. What the government is talking about will have an impact on infrastructure — and that’s scary. It’s about having access to the full internet by default, or only part of the internet by default.”

For those in the web industry, there’s an obvious additional problem, he thought: “By opting in, there’s probably a stigma to what you’re doing, due to certain negative things you might actually have nothing to do with. But of course people in the web industry will want and need access to the ‘full internet’. So what does that say about our industry? What does that mean if there’s ‘a list’ including all industry folk? What brush will that tar us with? These are important questions we need to consider.”

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