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The UK Adult Industry Actually Wants Porn Filters, But Better Ones

XXXAware shows parents different ways of protecting their kids, without giving up their own viewing pleasure.
February 14, 2014, 5:47pm
Image: MTSOfan/Flickr

It’s not hard to find opposition to site-blocking porn filters, but there’s one group of people that are unexpectedly in favour of content blocks: the adult industry itself.

Following UK internet service providers’ controversial opt-out “pornwalls,” which were installed at the behest of David Cameron’s government, members of the British adult community have come out in support of filters in general—just not those ones.

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This week, around Safer Internet Day—which happened this year to fall on the same date as “the Day We Fight Back" but would probably have gone largely ignored nonetheless—some big names in the adult industry re-launched xxxaware.com, a site that advocates safe surfing for kids. Its supporters include Paul Raymond Publications, who own magazines like Escort and Mayfair; Portland TV, which includes the channels Television X and Red Hot TV; and Studio 66 TV, which describes itself as a “babe channel.”

The site is aimed at parents, and deserves to be commended for its common sense approach. It lists different devices and providers, and offers links to a selection of filtering tools and other security measures for each. This addresses a key problem with filtering adult sites from little eyes: kids are often more tech-savvy than their parents, many of whom might not even know what kind of safety tools are out there.

So why would companies that make money from people watching naughty films online want to put barriers in the way of people watching naughty films online? First up, they’re no doubt keen to promote tools that don’t stop their adult customers from accessing their services: child blocks that actually just block children, and not your whole broadband connection. “As an industry-wide initiative, it is hoped that XXXAware can help encourage the uptake of parental controls so that adults can continue to access the content they want, without risk to children and without heavy-handed government intervention,” they wrote in a statement.

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Then there’s the image thing; the regulated, completely above-board adult industry is likely eager to separate itself from the slew of sites of varying quality and legality you can get on the unfiltered web, and reinforce their status as legitimate businesses. Putting themselves firmly on the other side of the web filter issue paints them as sensible grownups with a conscience, rather than the evil corrupters some pro-filter government officials would have you believe.

All in all, the site is a reminder that there are other options out there than just switching network-level filters on or off. Parents have been caught in a quandary over the ISPs’ filters as, not only do they stop them being able to view porn too, but they’ve been shown to block sites they might actually encourage their kids to see, like sex education sites.

On the other hand, if you do decide to use them, there’s the problem that they’re not necessarily effective. Last month, a report by regulator Ofcom found that 18 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds knew how to switch off internet filters (though only six percent of the little angels admitted to actually doing it). Even without turning them off, another report found that three out of four ISPs don’t stop children seeing image searches when they google “porn”—so even though they can’t get onto the sites, they can see more than enough.

As XXXAware explains, “There is no magic button that will protect your children from viewing pornographic or explicit material online. Even if a product did exist, kids use a variety of devices to surf the net and not all of these offers the same level of protection.”

But while the proponents of XXXAware say they’re keen to discuss the matter, it looks like the government’s sticking to its one-size-fits-all filter approach, even if it gets more and more farcical with every mistaken block (like Sky blocking the jQuery plugin, which meant users couldn’t properly access such child-unfriendly sites as, um, Google). “Since we launched we’ve had no contact from policymakers or anybody in government,” managing director of Portland Broadcasting Chris Ratcliff told Recombu. “We have to open a dialog with everybody.”