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Websites Could Get Movie-Style Ratings

The UK is trying to protect children from harmful websites on the Internet, and one theory is to use movie-style ratings.

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Britain's Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the Internet. He intends to discuss the matter with Barack Obama once the President-elect is signed into office next month. The "new decency" is aimed specifically at English language websites as well as Internet Service Providers and their lack of "child-safe" web services. He said that the Internet is "quite a dangerous place."

Indeed it is. Web surfers need only to type in an address and pull up a non-regulated YouTube knock-off (of a Red nature deemed as "the Home of Porn") that offers explicit, uncensored adult material. There is no age verification. There are no (obvious) memberships. While the free world may object to ISP-based filtering, citing Freedom of Speech, children can stumble upon such websites easily. Will giving websites such as this a film-based rating solve the problem. Probably not, but it's certainly a start.

According to The Daily Telegraph, such a ratings system is being considered. There was also mention of age-based ratings as well as forcing ISPs such as AOL, Sky and others to offer internet services that only offer access to websites suitable for children. This may seem like overkill, especially when 3rd-party, client-side software can basically do the same thing, however, websites should be censored before ever hitting the consumer's PC. Or, at least warn of unsuitable content before surfers gain full access to content without the need to install 3rd party monitors.

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach," he told The Daily Telegraph in an interview. "I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue." He goes on to say that, there is content that shouldn't be viewed period.

"This is not a campaign against free speech," he adds, "far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

He also mentions that websites like YouTube and Facebook should be required to remove offensive material within a specified time once the material has been brought to their attention. The British government is also considering to allow access to low-cost legal recourse if consumers are defamed online and while these efforts may sound like governmental imposition (aka Big Brother stepping in), Mr Burnham believes these measures need to be taken in order to provide a safe Internet.

But what does Barack Obama have anything to do with this? After all, this is British law intervening, not the American government. "The change of administration is a big moment," he admitted in the interview. "We have got a real opportunity to make common cause. The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”

While the thought of Internet regulation sounds oppressive, Burnham's motives seem sincere. As a parent of three, he wants to see an Internet with clear, set standards. He's terrified of what children can find on the Internet in an unregulated circumstance... say, two hours at home alone. Age regulations work both for the movies as well as games, and should work equally as well with websites... or so it would appear on paper.

Would internet regulation be opening up a whole new can of worms? Currently Age Gates do not work despite what publishers may say, anyone can enter a false date without age verification. It will be interesting to see if a ratings system can even work.

  • Hands of the internetz! NO TO CENZORSHIP!
  • Pei-chen
    They should hire China to run the filter for them. According to liberal media, China runs the world most advanced filtering system.
  • Blessedman
    Well what they should do instead of a stupid thing asking me what my bday is... Why not make all ID's in most countries a GUID and then have a single non profit organization that does a simple true or false query of age on GUID. Is GUID 392299sh2872ah223 > 18 if true then allow access. At least you will require someone of age with very little morals to get children onto bad sites. The organization would not have any personal info except age and sex, no name attached to GUID.
  • blackened144
    Blessedman, I have an even better idea. How about parents monitor the internet usage of their own children. This way, if their kids find something they shouldnt, the parents are the ones held responsible. Imagine having a policy of personal responsibility, instead of a multibillion dollar multinational organization.
  • IncinX
    The website query for 392299sh2872ah223 would return ERROR! (Invalid GUID)
  • w3iner
    If you had this GUID but it had no personal information attached, Anyone could just post theirs online, which defeats the entire purpose.

    I believe that Blackened is right on the money. The goverment does not need to regulate the flow of information in the free world, and what exactly is this guy so afraid of his kids seeing? Not like if kids see people having sex it will scar them for life.

    But back to blackened, what happens to personal responsibility? If people know they should not be viewing such material they should not do it.
  • WheelsOfConfusion
    Ratings by themselves don't seem to be too much of a problem, and it would probably make the process of blacklisting certain sites for schools or parental control programs easier. Mandating that such filtering be offered by ISPs might not be a horrible idea, so long as services that use or disuse the filtering have no cost difference to the consumer, and that both types are available.
    I also think that implementing the dot triple-X Top Level Domain is at least as good an idea, since the issues it raises are already coming up in this "ratings system" debate anyway.

    So far these proposals sound pretty measured, unlike Australia's. Let's all just keep in mind the reasons why "the people who created the internet ... talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach," as Burnham put it.

    As to the removal of material, I can't speak for social networking sites like Facebook but places like Photobucket, Imageshack, and Youtube can be pretty prompt in removing sexually explicitly material from the site of their own volition. I'm not sure what benefit there is to a legally-imposed deadline for removal, in broad terms. What does this do for sites that already try to enforce their ToS in that regard?
  • frozenlead
    I don't know when people will get that attempting to censor something like the internet is a waste of time. There are far too many websites and far too many ways to circumvent protection and blocks. It just can't be done. Even the filters of China and such aren't foolproof and have thousands, perhaps millions, of holes.

    I agree with blackened144. The best protection for any given kid of all the badness of the world is a parent who cares and is responsible.
  • kamkal
    what a load of sh!t

    these fear mongers are pathetic

    oh noes little timmy saw a b0ob, whatever will we do??!

    how bout watch what your kid is doing, try being a parent, what a novel idea!
  • Zomby
    I've been using such content-rating techniques by RSACi (now ICRA) since the 90's but it never really catched on. Basically it means adding a rating to to the pages of your website and it's up to the browsers to allow or disallow the viewing of the page depending on this rating. On Internet Explorer it can be managed through the "Content Advisor" settings. AFAIK it's the only browser that does supports this rating system as no other company is concerned with the issue of children safety.