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No porn on public WiFi, says David Cameron. Sensible or a step too far? UPDATED

David Cameron is to announce plans to make it a legal requirement for public WiFi providers to block access to pornography by default.

The plans, which have yet to be formally announced, apparently call for “good, clean WiFi” in public spaces to give parents confidence.

Public WiFi is ubiquitous these days, available in numerous cafes, pubs, coffee shops and high street retailers including Starbucks and Debenhams. All of which could potentially provide underage eyes easy access to adult material, so a call to block porn by default is a sensible one.

No porn on public WiFi, says David Cameron. Sensible or a step too far?
Down With This Sort Of Thing

Read Recombu Digital’s feature on Parental Internet Controls

According to the Telegraph which broke this story, numerous charities including the NSPCC and the Children’s Society welcome the plans. Jim Carr, chairman of the Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety said: We welcome any deal which is long overdue. Public access to the internet is a modern reality and we have to fund a way of dealing with this growing problem.”

The Sky-owned network The Cloud has already implemented a network-wide block on adult sites for the WiFi hotspots it operates in JD Wetherspoons, All Bar One and Greene King pubs. But these plans would appear to force all public WiFi networks, including those operated by BT, Virgin Media and O2 to have blocked access to pornography by default.

The are however a couple of immediate problems with such a proposal. One, innocuous, innocent sites that aren’t remotely pornographic can and do get unfairly blacklisted. Two, there’s a chance that any tech-savvy teenager who wants to look at porn on public WiFi will find a way to get round the restrictions.

Ahead of any official announcement from the government, it’s hard to say what impact the proposals will have or when they’ll take effect. Previous plans to force ISPs to block access to adult sites by default have been rebuffed after a lack of enthusiasm from parents and ministers. 

Update (1): Vince Russell, Managing Director, The Cloud got in touch to tell us: “BSkyB supports the Government’s efforts to safeguard children from inappropriate content on public WiFi networks. The Cloud already automatically filters adult content in public places. This is something we are proud to have led the way on.  We believe that parents want peace of mind that their children cannot inadvertently access adult material when out of home. That’s why we were the first WiFi provider to apply content filters as default across our entire network.” 

Update (2): We’ve now received comment from Emma Carr, deputy director of privacy pressure group Big Brother Watch who says: “Blocking adult content on public wi-fi sounds good, but who gets to decide what is blocked? Will Sun readers not be able to read the paper online because of Page 3? We campaigned for a free press to defend free expression and politicians shouldn’t be deciding what legal content we are allowed to look at online.”

It’s an interesting point – should whole websites like the Sun be censored or just the offending sections (which in this case would be Page 3)? 

 

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