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.