01 January 2009
Film-style age ratings could be applied to websites to protect children from harmful and offensive material, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.
via BBC NEWS | UK | Website age ratings 'an option'.

An interesting idea came out of the UK government this week, the idea of applying film-style age ratings to websites (here in the UK that is U=Universal, PG=Parental Guidence, 12=12 years old and older, 15=15 years old and higher and 18=18 years old and higher) as a means of protecting kids.  As a father of 2 small kids I can understand the desire to create a safer internet but I think they may be entirely misunderstanding how the net works as such a system for the whole net would be completely unworkable.

The internet is almost un-policable without cross-border cooperation between governments.  It is not known whether the internet was designed to be unpolicable or whether it just evolved as it has but data is stored and services are run on servers all over the world including in many countries that would not offer cooperation with the UK government.  Not only that but websites appear and disappear with almost disturbing speed - how do you regulate that?  What about websites that are full of safe stuff in one area, but have inappropriate content elsewhere on the same site.  What about user-posted content?  Not just pictures, but graphic text also?

No, the only way to get even close to what the government would like to do is to create a whitelist of websites that are safe for kids that have no user-posted content and are regularly policed.  A whitelist operates like a walled garden - you can roam around inside the garden but you can't get out - you can visit any site on the whitelist, but no others.  Perhaps sites would apply to be part of this whitelist and volunteer themselves on there, but I can't imagine that the take up would be at all high considering the punishment the government would dole out if something nasty slipped through their own censoring.

No, the only way for young kids to use the internet is to do so closely supervised.  And if my kids think they can have a computer in their own room before they're 32 they've got another thing coming...



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