The Internet Society of NZ (IsocNZ) has come out against home-based content filters as a device for protecting children from undesirable internet content.
The reason, says IsocNZ executive director Sue Leader, is that filtering software is a long way short of its ideals. "The technology is improving, but at this stage the best protection for children is still adult supervision."
The society says in a statement that it is “concerned that products are being offered which promise to screen … potentially offensive material, on the basis of image content.
"From our experiences to date, the technology is unsatisfactory, in that the ability to distinguish between pictorial materials is not sufficiently precise. In the society's view it is unlikely that satisfactory systems, based on distinguishing image content, will be developed in the near future." Imperfect filters are dangerous both in failing to block material that their marketing messages claim they block, and in mistakenly blocking innocuous sources, the society says.
The statement has ignited a debate among IsocNZ members, some suggesting that filters do have a place, others that a badly functioning filter is worse than no filter at all. There is also a background of grumbling that the membership at large were insufficiently consulted before the statement was issued.
The society calls for a self-regulatory approach for websites, with increasing attention by site managers to warnings on sites that should be restricted. Unfortunately for the society’s views, many current warning signs on “adult” websites are accompanied by links to filter-vendors’ sites. The operators supply their addresses to the filter vendors to make sure their own sites are blocked to users of the software.
The IsocNZ statement, by contrast, contains a link to Peacefire, the site of a movement one of whose major planks is to identify the failings in filter software.
It also points to the Department of Internal Affairs, which runs the team responsible for compliance with censorship and gaming laws, and to IsocNZ’s own Code of Practice for local ISPs.