Curious times.  I blogged yesterday on briefed plans for new controls on access to pornography and other explicit material in British homes coupled with the launch of a new website – Parentport – through which parents could report their concerns about individual sites and obtain support.  The media reports were, I suggested, muddled.  Conflicted messaged about opt in or opt out and as the day advanced, there seemed a third option of opt in but only for news customers.  So I waited.  And I waited.  Eventually, the BBC updated their story in the evening – buried on the technology pages after it had started the morning headlining on the news and featuring prominently in many newspapers.

So where are we?  Well, Number 10 helpfully published a press release on the event.  It is headlined ‘PM launched Parentport website’ – so no mention of porn or the ISP’s.  It states:  ‘The Prime Minister and Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather have hosted a summit at Downing Street on tackling the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. The Prime Minister was joined by parents and children to view the new Parentport website.’

Which all sounds rather lovely.  A Lib Dem minister plus the PrimeMinsiter had a few parents and children around to number 10 to take a look at a website.  Lovely, but it doesn’t exactly set the heather alight does it?  What of the four ISP’s trailed in the media stories, or the issue of opt in/opt out to website controls.  Buried mid way through the press release is the following line:

‘The commitment from the top four Internet service providers (BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin) that all customers will receive an active choice at the point of purchase over whether they want to block adult content on their home Internet or laptops.’

Ahhh, an ‘active choice’.  Seemingly vague but it does indeed suggest that these companies will have a box on their website or a question during purchase offering parents the opportunity to request a block – although the press release still doesn’t define what ‘adult content’ is.  Questions continue to abound.

One of the interesting revelations in this press release was the inclusion of Sarah Tether – this was not a Cameron only, Conservative proposal.  It was a coalition proposal.  So, what are the Department of Education saying about the event?  This is the department that Tether is based in and which has produced the same press release text as Number 10 except the headline has mysteriously changed.  They go with:  ‘Prime Minister welcomes progress on tackling commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood but says more must be done.’  So perhaps we start to get to the bottom of the muddle – two departments involved in an event both attempting to say the same thing but spinning the story in a different way.  Then we add into the mix the Mothers Union who seem to have a more prominent say in the BBC report – and who – given their inclusion – were obviously briefed before the event and may well have also been briefing the media on how their understood the proposals.

So, we have a set of measures by some members of the Internet industry that still seem incredibly ill-thought out, badly conceived and unlikely to achieve the misplaced aims that the British Government seems to want to achieve.  Yet, I am less concerned than I was this time yesterday morning as the changes are perhaps more stupid than scary.

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