As web moves to TV, child protection is key, but ISP-level filtering won't work

So, Digital and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has backed MP Clare Perry's calls to create a firewall of Britain to support the seemingly reasonable aim of protecting children from pornography (and potentially keeping adults from materials classified under the Obscene Publications Act). With the web now moving further towards the TV, the suggestion is not much of a surprise.

While it's tempting to dismiss it as an attempt for the government to filter the web so it can block a future Wikileaks - especially after Vaizey's Network Neutrality misfire - the discussion of how to deal with the difference between TV, where you can't say certain words before 9pm, and the web, which knows no limits, needs to take place. And as The Register - telling people to calm down - points out, Vaizey has suggested he doesn't want to legislate but wants to act as broker between industry and ISPs.

Indeed Vaizey was cautious when the issue was first raised by Conservative MP Claire Perry in the Commons on November 23rd, afraid of what he called a 'Twitter Storm', but in yesterday's Sunday Times he said he wanted to see the ISP industry introduce measures soon. To recap what Perry was calling for:

"I am asking for a change in regulation that would require all UK-based internet service providers to restrict universal access to pornographic material by implementing a simple opt-in system based on age verification."

Yet - as anyone who understands the web's structure will know - there is no 'simple opt-in system'. So asides from the censorship problems of blocking entire websites - spelt out well by the Guardian today, which points out that sites like Flickr, YouTube, Blogger and Tumblr all have adult channels - is the practical fact that the kind of filtering Perry and Vaizey are calling for just has never been proven to work - indeed research below suggests it could slow down connections by up to 86% while wrongly blocking millions of child-safe websites, and letting millions more child-unsafe websites flood thru.

There are three ways to crudely filter content by age:

  • on websites themselves, putting responsibility on publishers; 
  • in browsers, putting responsibility on parents and those who control the web connection; 
  • and at ISP level, which requires the ISPs to track, review and filter all of their traffic thru some automated process.

Vaizey pointed out to Perry in the commons debate that a UK adult website was recently prosecuted for not providing sufficient adult content warnings on their front page (which in turn alerts browser blockers like CyberNanny). Perry responded that this is no help with foreign websites and suggested that most parents are either too busy to know how to install a filter in the browser - "through technological ignorance, time pressure or inertia or for myriad other reasons, this filtering solution is not working" - so the responsibility should be with the ISP.

To avoid parents having to take responsibility for what their children has access to (unlike alcohol, cigarettes, DVDs or TV in the home) Perry says the ISP should play a kind of gatekeeper nanny, filtering all content unless someone tells their ISP they are an adult, while presumably auto-filtering anything else that looks like it might be illegal under the Obscene Publications Act. And here is where many online have started to panic - it would surely just be a matter of time before other kinds of content got added - first suicide forums, racist hate sites, terrorism related content, then alleged copyright misuse perhaps. At such a point, the Internet would be a different place, subject to the whims of the government of the day. If a filter was in place it would be a challenge for MPs to avoid using it as a political tool, and it's hard to imagine in the long term during, say, student demonstrations them not blocking sites for protesters who 'may be planning violence', or sites which publish damaging leaked confidential documents.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves - right now, all that's happening is a meeting of ISPs and concerned parties, around a table, some time next month. And whatever the outcome of that, the simple issue is that ISP-level auto filtering doesn't work. As well as slowing down web connections considerably, ISP-level filters fail to block what they’re supposed to, and succeed in blocking what shouldn’t be.

It's a no brainer - how could can anyone other than a well-informed human distinguish between, for instance, scenes from Lars von Trier's Antichrist or Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ and material currently banned under the Obscene Publications Act?

In one of the main studies into the area, ahead of trying to implement a similar Australia-wide firewall, Australia's OFCOM, the ACMA, did research into the accuracy and impact of ISP-level filtering, called “Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering” which showed five big problems with ISP filtering:

  1. All filters tested had problems with under-blocking, allowing access to between 2% and 13% of material that they should have blocked;
  2. All filters tested had serious problems with over-blocking, wrongly blocking access to between 1.3% and 7.8% of the websites tested;
  3. One filter caused a 22% drop in speed even when it was not performing filtering;
  4. Only one of the six filters had an acceptable level of performance (a drop of 2% in a laboratory trial), the others causing drops in speed of between 21% and 86%;
  5. The most accurate filters were often the slowest.

If you were one of the 3 - 18 million inaccurately blocked websites because of ISP filtering (based on 231m websites world), who would you sue for loss of business? The government? The ISP? Meanwhile websites that auto-publish content, like Netribution, as well as web forums, would be at risk of being blocked automatically from the actions of one user - only the web giants who could afford constant 24-7 moderation would be able to survive.

The fact that children and teenageers have access online to images and video beyond my wildest imagination when I was that age has long troubled me, and a serious debate between ISPs, web and browser companies, content producers and end users is a good thing - especially as the web moves to the TV. It also troubled me when working in a primary school last year which had a strict web firewall,that it offered unlimited access to YouTube - which is filled with adult content - but not the website we'd built for the school, or the Vimeo videos embedded in those pages (until we spoke to a filtering help desk for 30 minutes).

So it's an important issue, but what must be avoided - after the chaos of the Digital Economy Act - is for an MP with rudimentary technical understanding to push thru an invented 'solution' to a genuine problem that bears so little relationship with reality they end up creating a heap of new problems - and alienating the people whose support would be needed for a solution to work.

Because the only solution that I can imagine working is the crowd-model, the - gulp - Big Society answer. A huge federated opt-in crowd-built database run by parents, teachers and concerned people ticking off websites and video safe for different ages, based on common guidelines. And then browser and operating system makers could hardwire a very simple way for parents to turn ON a filter for their children not showing anything that isn't on the ever increasing list for that age group. Crude, but more dependable than any of the other controls - and at the same time not absolving the parent from their responsibility over what their child can do at home.

October Country: a Masterclass with Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

Friday 10 December 2010
14:00 - 17:30

Venue: Hunter Lecture Theatre (O17) - eca - 74 Lauriston Place - EH3 9DF

Don't miss our final masterclass in 2010 including the Scottish premiere of the award winning October Country by Mike Palmieri & Donal Mosher.

 We are delighted to welcome Mike and Donal to winterly Edinburgh. We saw this film at Sheffield last year and it blew us away!

HUSH YOUR MOUTH Double Win

UK urban drama HUSH YOUR MOUTH was awarded top prizes at Festival Bragacine in Portugal. At the Augusta Awards 2010, HUSH YOUR MOUTH was awaded the Grand prize for BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM and director TOM TYRWHITT won the award for BEST DIRECTOR.

This gritty micro-budget drama featuring a largely young cast of talented new-comers has been described by critics as "a seething, stylish and raw piece of cinema".

Discovering Latin America Film Festival will shine bright in London this month

From the 18th to the 28th of November the Discovering Latin America Film Festival (DLAFF) will reach its 9th edition exhibiting a compilation of the best recent film productions from Latin America. Award-winning films such as Argentine feature The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) and Costa Rican Cold water of the Sea (2010) will be exhibited in participating venues throughout Central London such as Odeon Covent Garden, Odeon Panton Street and Tate Modern.

The Discovering Latin America Film Festival (DLAFF) is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom and for the ninth year promises to present the city of London with a wide variety of brilliant feature films and shorts, as well as exciting documentaries spanning the whole political spectrum, thrilling retrospectives, thought-provoking master-classes, enthralling discussions with film directors and many other events.

A chance to meet the ‘Argentine Woody Allen’ in person

One of this year’s star guests will be renowned Argentine director Daniel Burman, whose introspective style has often been compared to that of Woody Allen. Brother and Sister (2010), the most recent of Daniel’s films, will be featured in the fourth of the festival’s gala nights on Tuesday 23rd of November. Daniel will be present at the screenings to discuss his work and show his support for the Discovering Latin America Film Festival’s (DLAFF) cause.

Revenue from ticket sales will help a community project in San Salvador

Part proceeds from the 9th DLAFF ticket sales this year will benefit the Salvadorian Children’s Earthquake Trust (Salcet), a UK registered charity established in 2005 in response to the emergency and long term rehabilitation needs of children affected by earthquakes and other natural disasters in El Salvador and other vulnerable countries. The grant awarded to Salcet by Discovering Latin America (DLA) will be used to fund the construction of a sewage and drainage system for the San Carlos municipality, located in the northern outskirts of San Salvador.

Pepsi 'Max It' Film Competition

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  • £30,000 film production budget

  • Screening at the opening night of Raindance Film Festival 2011

  • VIP trip for 2 to Cannes Film Festival 2011

On Monday 15th November Pepsi Max launched the Pepsi ‘MAX IT’ Film Competition.  They are challenging film makers to create a short film and upload it to their website maxitlegends.com for the chance to win some amazing prizes.

All of the films will be viewed by the Pepsi ‘MAX IT’ judging panel which will include Elliot Grove the founder of Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards.

The judge’s favourite film will win a £30,000 film production budget, a screening at the opening night of the Raindance Film Festival 2011 and a VIP trip for 2 to the Cannes Film Festival 2011.  The Judge’s shortlist of 10 films will all receive Premium Raindance Memberships.

Plus the 6 top rated films in the public vote at maxitlegends.com will win a Flip HD Camcorder.

What’s more Pepsi has teamed up with Netribution to offer a special prize!  The entry from Netribution which is ranked highest in the public vote on maxitlegends.com will win a £100 Amazon.co.uk gift certificate.  For the chance to win this Netribution exclusive prize just upload your video with Netribution in the description and get everyone you know to vote!

EIFF Submissions GO LIVE!

Submissions for the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival, 15 - 26 June, have now opened.

Accepting films of all genres and lengths as longs as they are no older than 12 months and have not been screened in the UK before our festival in June.

Earlybird Deadline - Mon 13 December 2010

Regular Deadline - Mon 31 January 2011

Late Deadline - Mon 14 February 2011

For information on how to submit go to www.edfilmfest.org.uk/submissions

What Happened? Sandip Mahal on stereotypes in British TV

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For me television (and the 90’s) really started with Buddha of Suburbia, which had fully developed Indian characters that weren’t stereotypes to cringe at. Yes shopkeepers and arranged marriages were in there but it was done in a funny demented way that wasn’t patronising. I know there was My Beautiful Laundrette before it (from the same writer no less) but this was better. Add My Son the Fanatic which was years ahead of it’s time in terms of it’s subject matter, East is East (not my favourite but popular nonetheless) and then the ground breaking Goodness Gracious Me and after that…. Er that’s it.

We seem to have gone backwards again with Curry urchins on Eastenders, corner shop owners on Corrie (aka Currie?) and an ITV Call Centre comedy that seems to evoke Mind Your Language seeing as the latter had an LWT weekend slot. All this slow progress and progressive work has suddenly gone into reverse. Granted, we have Gurinder Chadha flying the flag but she is all alone out there and not much is being done to pan out the television schedules to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and when they do it’s with a resounding commercial and critical thump. I would estimate that we are 20 years behind American television we need to close the gap.

We need characters like the ones written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi rather than the caricatures in Eastenders and Coronation street. This can only be done by true talent spotting rather than diversity nights that the channels seem to be doing to ‘feel clean’.

Actors of colour like Dev Patel and Adrian Lester have already disappeared to America where characters are stronger, can we afford to lose more like them?

Special Edition # 44

We’ve just passed Halloween which means that it’s horror movie a-go-go as we have more remakes of classic scary movies (which, alongside the fact that Scream 4 has been announced, seems to indicate that the horror genre has run out of ideas entirely) and one film that is so disgusting that I think that I may not be able to eat for quite a while. Still, nothing’s as scary as George Osbourne. Special Edition # 44 has survived a cut in funding and I’m here to give a rundown of what to buy over the coming month. That’s assuming that you’ve got any money left.

Jackie Earle Haley gets pizza smeared all over his face (OK, I am sure that the make-up job is a bit more elaborate than that) as he takes on the iconic role of Freddy Kreuger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment). For those of you not familiar with Wes Craven’s 80s terrorfest, the film follows Krueger, a child molester turned evil demon, who is capable of killing people in their dreams. A group of teenagers must fight him whilst resisting the urge to succumb to sleep and enter the world in which Freddy has control. Whilst the film takes the character of Freddy back to his darker roots (losing the one-liners and bringing his background as a paedophile more to the fore) it all feels rather by the numbers and seems constrained by the history of the franchise even though it’s ostensibly a reboot. Hayley seems almost pantomime as Krueger whilst the young cast of victims do nothing to distinguish themselves from the usual cast of cannon fodder that horror films love to line up. Ultimately it’s another limp attempt at starting all over again. Why can’t people do something original...

 

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