UK Mandatory Web Filter

uk flag UK Mandatory Web FilterWe've discussed the UK government's plan to make the Internet a safer place for children by making adult hosting content filters mandatory. In case you didn't catch those articles, here's a recap: PM David Cameron is requiring porn filters be activated in every household in the UK unless the user opts out of it when signing up for service.

The ISP will simply change the default of the filters to “on” for new subscribers unless the user opts out. Those who already subscribe will have the chance to opt out, and if they don't, the filters will be automatically applied by the ISP.

It isn't just adult hosting content that will be blocked. Other objectionable material filtered out: violent material; web forums; tools that exist to bypass web filters; and content regarding anorexia, eating disorders, suicide, terrorism, and extremism. The organization Open Rights Group is concerned, however, that some sites will be mistaken for “adult” and blocked due to the fact what is considered adult content varies from person to person.

UK Mandatory Web Filter: Should All Hosting Companies Be Concerned?

Probably not. The majority of hosting companies won't find that their sites are affected, as long as it doesn't feature adult content. University of Cambridge security researcher Richard Clayton says it all depends on how the individual ISPs implement the filters. “In general the block will be applied at the domain name level rather than the IP level,” he said.

Basically, if one finds both racy, nude pictures and innocent family shots on the same IP and server, the family shots will be safe as long as they exist on separate domains. Added to that, said Clayton, is the fact most pornographic sites are hosted on dedicated servers rather than existing in a shared hosting environment due to the excessive bandwidth and storage requirements.

UK Mandatory Web Filter: What About The Search Engines?

Google Image Search could find themselves in trouble for the content that is displayed, along with other sites that pull content from around the Web. Also in trouble: sites like Tumblr. Because filtering is done on the domain side, they may be filtered because of the few adult content subdomains they host.

However, filters already exist within both Google Image Search and Tumblr, where content is classified as adult or NSFW, like ‘safe search.' This filters the content based on age-appropriateness, but can be prone to over- or under-filtering. Although it's no guarantee sites will be given the green light, giving users the option to filter adult hosting content casts that site in a more favorable light when the decision needs to be made whether or not to filter that site entirely.

UK Mandatory Web Filter: Do Filters Even Matter?

There are some that say these filters don't matter at all, since it is so very easy to opt out of the program. Some say that the issue isn't properly addressed. “A lot of people have argued that this basically provides a false sense of security for parents in that they're going to believe that nothing can be seen by their precious little Johnny,” said Clayton. “And once you start taking technical measures in order to evade these blocks, they can see anything they want.”

Another issue: it won't filter out those sites that exist on the deep web. Tor is becoming more popular for both accessing questionable content and getting around surveillance.

In the end, the majority of web hosting companies won't need to worry. Although they aren't 100% responsible for the content they host, they can have some say in what they will and won't host.

What do you think about this issue?

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