SURREY, U.K.—Tibboh, a British internet service provider, has teamed with the British Board of Film Classification—their version of our MPAA—to age-classify content filtered at the ISP level. According to Fast Company, it is the first time an ISP has partnered with the independent classification body to assist it in evaluating websites according to pre-determined guidelines.
“And yes, this is apparently technically possible,” wrote Kit Eaton. “Tibboh says its servers have crawled around 3 billion Web pages so far and rated them according to the BBFC's classifications. This process is largely automatic, using a bunch of pre-existing services like Netsweeper, but the upshot is pretty simple: Families can pay for group access to the Net via Tibboh and then choose to limit the kind of services that their kids can access over the big, bad Interwolf. It's novel, it uses a familiar and, to a degree, ‘trusted’ censorship brand, and it taps into the current social discomfort over the sort of content the Internet is delivering to your door, at ever higher speeds.”
BBFC classifications are:
- U for Universal—suitable for all
- PG for Parental Guidance—may be unsuitable for young children
- 12 & 12A—suitable for 12 years of age and older (12 is for videos only)
- 15—suitable for 15 years of age and older
- 18—suitable only for adults
- R18—to be shown only in a specially licensed cinema, or supplied only in licensed sex shops, to adults not less than 18 years of age
Currently, the filter offering is available only for mobile broadband access, at a price point of 20 pounds per month for 10gigs of data.
One problem with the classification system as it’s used on Tibboh, says Eaton, is that search engines Google and Bing receive a ‘12’ rating, rendering them inaccessible to anyone that age or younger. Facebook also is given a "12" classification. While admitting that on a certain level it makes sense to limit the availablity of these sites, considering the type of material that can be called up at will, Eaton thinks the endeavor may be an exercise in technological futility as well as potentially counter-productive.
“But what about the notion that barring your 11-year-old access to a search engine is hilariously Victorian,” he asks? “Kids, obviously, are exposed to Net technology in ways we never were growing up—the old joke about the neighbor kid who knows how to program your VCR has had a significant upgrade since the 1980s. And acting supposedly in their interests for their own protection is all very well, but what about using Google to help them research their homework, and letting them understand that the world is a complex, messy place?”
And then there is the larger issue of ISP-level censorship. Even for parents, who bear most if not all of the responsibility for protecting their children, the idea of such close cooperation between a classification board and an ISP could be seen as a filter too far.
Still, there will probably always be a market for products and services that remove from the parents’ plate the messy chore of making certain decisions they would rather not deal with, which may be all well and good until the day we become so collectively distracted that we don’t realize that all such decisions have been taken away from us for good. By then, of course, it will be too late.
The Tibboh website can be accessed here.