Google bashing – the ultimate silly season story?

David Cameron gets tough on the internet corporations. He wants them to do more to combat online child pornography. A warning to flash up if someone puts in a vile search term, for example.                   

I don’t wish to diminish the appalling scurge of child pornography. “Every photo is a crime scene” says Cameron. I agree with that.
In one sense this Cameron “initiative” (although I hesitate to describe it as such because I doubt whether Cameron’s “proposals” have sufficient technical or intellectual rigour to be described as such) is laudable. Of course, the corporations could do more.

In another sense, I suspect a rather cynical headline-gathering stunt here.
“Everyone is an expert” on the internet, and that includes me.

But I had difficulty understanding what Cameron is trying to do when I watched his Andy Marr interview yesterday. (Welcome back Andrew Marr, by the way).

At one point it seemed he wanted to protect kids like his own from exposure to online filth.

But I suspect any wealthy home counties family has net nanny filter software coming out of its ears.

So he wants to stop offenders putting in awful search terms to find appalling photos….is that it?

Even prohibited searches might screen out some offenders. But these seem token measures.        

There is still “peer to peer” as mentioned in the interview.

But, generally, the internet is of such a character that, I suspect, if you put your mind to it, you can find an alternative way to do anything.     

For example. A person who is so intelligent and internet-savvy that he has a PhD in it, once explained to me that you can become your own Internet Service Provider (ISP) by using your own server to get online. Indeed, another wonk, with almost comically impenetrable knowledge of the internet, explained the same thing to me the other day (I think). And once you are your own ISP, I suspect you can do a lot.

Cameron is basically using a silly season media window to try to convince us that he, or governments, have power over the internet corporations.

In one sense, he and governments don’t have much power in this area. People won’t tolerate the North Korean-style solutions that would be needed to really crack down on illegal web use.

In another sense, if Cameron really means business, why doesn’t he just get his girls and boys to use their 30 day window (see Edward Snowden revelations) to track down every iffy search term enterer? (I gest, of course). That would keep the girls and boys busy. Morning lasses and lads!

I suspect that the “flashing warnings” he seems to be talking about might deter the odd beginner offender.

At best, they might make prosecutions clearer. “The warnings were ignored” takes away any suggestion of naive ignorance.

This morning, we have a couple of “announcements” on the coat tails of Cameron’s interview yesterday. Neither was mentioned by Cameron yesterday.

Firstly, depictions of rape are to be made illegal. I thought they were already, but, if not, I welcome this and wish good luck to the civil servants who have to wordsmith this provision.

Secondly, we hear that there will be an opt-in filter for porn on “households”. This is not a new idea. I can’t help thinking we are in danger of muddling up legal and illegal porn.

Such an opt-in filter will certainly stop a heck of a lot of legal activity. It may also nip some embryonic illegal activity in the bud. In that sense, I welcome it.             

But, again, if you put such a restriction into the internet environment, then I suspect you simply push offenders into creating another by-pass procedure.        

Would such a measure stop email or peer-to-peer sharing of illegal images, for example? I somehow doubt it.
(I put “households” above in inverted commas because surely illegal internet use cannot be reduced to such handy units as “households” can it? With tablets and mobiles etc, it seems rather odd to discuss internet use in such terms.)


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