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'Opt-in' Internet pornography initiative bad news for some Internet providers

By Andrew Wittenberg | Posted - Nov 18th, 2013 @ 10:36pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — The estimates are staggering: some say as much as 30 percent of all data transferred on the Internet is related to pornography. But a new initiative gaining ground hopes to take that number down for the millions of parents who don't want their kids to see porn online.

Right now in the United States, it's up to individual users to filter what they see and what they don't online. If creators of this "opt-in" initiative get their way, it will instead be the Internet service provider's responsibility to filter pornography out for the customer.

The idea doesn't sit well with many of those who provide Internet service — people like Pete Ashdown, founder of Salt Lake City Internet service provider XMission.

"We try to put that power in front of the subscriber, so they can turn it on if they need to. Google does the same thing with their SafeSearch," Ashdown said.

This summer in the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister David Cameron instituted a policy that was a change in Internet philosophy. Instead of customers blocking pornography and other content themselves through Internet filters, Cameron put that process directly in the hands of Internet service providers — a 180 degree shift.

There's a similar initiative gaining momentum in the U.S. A petition making the rounds through the White House website already has over 36,000 signatures. If it gets to 100,000, President Barack Obama will make an official response.

"We are asking for greater protection and responsibility from Internet Service providers and our country," the petition states. "We are asking that people who are interested in porn should have to seek it and choose it. They should have to 'opt in' for it by making arrangements to receive it with their Internet service provider. Everyone else should be free from it and assumed 'opt out.'

Ashdown doesn't support the U.S. initiative; he thinks censorship should be up to parents, not the government.

For his company and other small Internet service providers, Ashdown said this isn't an issue of morality as much as it is business and freedom of information.

"Our margins are razor thin as it is, and to put an element in where we are acting as pornography police would be something that would just shut us down," Ashdown said.

The idea still has a long way to go in the U.S. But again, should a Internet pornography opt-in policy one day become law, customers could still physically opt-in with their provider to have access to material the filter blocks.

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