Internet Filters Rarely Keep Under-18s Away From Porn, Claims Study

By Tom Pritchard on at

In some news that is, frankly, about as surprising to wake up and wind the sun has risen from the east, researchers from Oxford Internet Institute have that adding filters to the internet isn't a very good way of keeping porn out of the hands of under-18s. And to that I say:

The paper in question is 'Internet Filtering and Adolescent Exposure to Online Sexual Material' by Victoria Nash and Andrew Przybylski. Both found that not only are internet filters expensive to maintain, the every advancing march of technology means that there are constantly new ways of being able to share and access material - a process referred to as 'underblocking'. Furthermore, they found that it also has implications in other areas, like denying young people access to important healthcare information. Obviously the government isn't going to like hearing about this, seeing as how it has plans to add age-verification portals to all adult websites before the end of the year.

The general conclusion is that there was some provisional evidence that filtering may have been successful before the smartphone age (based on two studies), nowadays things are completely different with filters doing very little to prevent under 18s from accessing adult material. The researchers also noted that evidence supporting filtering was currently very weak.

The study itself was comprised of two parts, with the first involved 9,352 male and 9,357 female subjects aged between 11 and 16 from across the EU and UK. The second involved 1,004 subjects aged 14-15 from the UK. Overall they found that around 50 per cent of all subjects had some sort of internet filter at home. Despite this, there was no discernible difference in the amount of porn they'd seen, with the researchers estimating that there would need to be between 17 and 77 filters in place to prevent a single young person from accessing porn.

The study doesn't, however, differentiate between pornography and educational imagery involving sex or nudity, which the researchers noted as a limitation. It also doesn't seem to make any distinction between accidentally coming across adult content or whether the subjects were deliberately looking for it. There's a big difference where effectiveness is concerned, and in the case of the UK's upcoming porn blocks the government insists that its primarily about preventing under-18s from finding porn accidentally - initially at least.

Filters that are successful at preventing kids from accidentally finding porn must be at least partially effective, though it doesn't takeaway from the results that show they're too easy to get around. And leads to the question, if they don't work and they cost too much to implement, why bother? [TechCrunch]