Filtering Alone is Ineffective, Potentially Harmful

Tim Henning

The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is calling for more thoughtful solutions to the problem of preventing minors and adolescents from accessing legal adult entertainment websites.

Currently there is no single “silver bullet” solution to protecting children and adolescents from potentially harmful content and interactions in their digital lives. The best solution lies in a multi-layered approach in which the parent is the central and most important component.

It is the parent’s decision to decide to what degree they employ these technologies, and it is essential that this control remain within their power.

Filtering technology has been around for a number of years and although its effectiveness and accuracy has improved due to initiatives such as the award winning Restricted To Adults (RTA) website meta label, created by ASACP to provide more accurate parental filtering, and to demonstrate the online adult entertainment industry’s commitment to helping parents prevent children from viewing age-inappropriate content, these technologies still fall short in fully protecting children in their digital lives for the following key reasons:

• Filtering technologies are challenged with limitations that block content that should not be blocked (over blocking); and let content through that should be blocked (under blocking); which requires parental involvement to correct this erroneous filtering.

• Filtering technology does nothing to prevent access to age-inappropriate content, which resides in very large quantities on other areas of the Internet such as UseNet, chat boards, peer to peer networks, file lockers and more.

• Filtering technology can easily be defeated by motivated and tech savvy youth, even when implemented at the ISP level.

• Filtering technology does nothing to protect children and adolescents from other very serious dangers that exist in their digital lives, which include cyber-bullying, child luring, cyberstalking, and the inappropriate sharing of personal / private information.

• Filtering technology employed by ISPs will block content that should not be blocked (over blocking) and thus deprive individuals, adults and minors alike, of their ability to access that information.

It is essential to recognize that while filtering technologies are able to assist parents these tools do not provide an adequate solution to protecting children and adolescents as they live their digital lives. What is required is a holistic approach that employs technology, education and parental involvement.

When it comes to Internet safety, all reputable, unbiased, academic research proves the best outcome for at-risk children and adolescents in their digital lives comes from parental involvement and support. In fact, research into this topic firmly concludes that the attitudes some express as to parents doing enough, or that children always evade parental guidance, are ungrounded. Researchers have found that parental involvement in their children’s digital lives made the most significant impacts on behavior and safety level, by making sure their children know how to stay safe, be responsible and to respect others online.

The best steps taken by parents appear to be keeping an open line of communication with their children and teaching them about online safety, making sure they knew they could ask for help if needed. In fact, researchers have concluded that technical mediation alone, such as filtering, have no significant impact on children between nine and 14 years old and are even associated with more harm than good for 15 and 16 year olds.

The clear message here is that parental controls work in conjunction with parental engagement, not instead of it.

Another concern with any plan that includes government mandated filtering at the ISP level is the fact that there is a real danger it will create a false sense of protection for parents, children and adolescents. If parents falsely believe that the child is safe because of ISP level filtering, there is the risk parents will not be as involved as they need to be in that child’s digital life in order to protect them adequately.

This is absolutely the wrong message to be sending to both parents and children.

Parents need to be made aware that filtering technology alone will not protect their children online and that filters are only a tool to assist them in this regard. It is essential that education is provided for both parents and children in order to promote parental involvement and the steps that parents, children and adolescents need to take in order to be best protected in their digital lives.

It is often said that due to the range of Internet enabled devices, there are not enough parental controls to effectively aid parents in protecting their children. This is simply untrue. There are parental controls built into and available for all devices children are currently using to access the Internet today. There are wide ranging technologies that allow parents to filter and to also monitor exactly what their children are doing and who they interact with online.

It is the parent’s decision to decide to what degree they employ these technologies, and it is essential that this control remain within their power.

It is also often said that mobile phones pose a great risk to minors, and because the age of mobile phone users continues downwards, children are at greater and greater risk. Again this is simply not true. Mobile phones have parental controls and all mobile operators in the U.K. provide parental controls for free to their users, with most having these controls turned on by default.

There are many excellent resources online that can help educate parents about ways to protect their children who use these Internet enabled devices. As an example, an excellent U.K. solution exists at the XXX Aware website (www.xxxaware.co.uk), which educates parents on the parental control options available on a wide range of Internet enabled devices.

In conclusion it is clear that government mandated filtering at the ISP level will have very little real-world impact on protecting children and adolescents as they live increasingly digital lives. In fact there is the potential to do much harm. We can all agree that we want to protect children online and help provide the most positive digital experiences and educational opportunities for them. We must ensure in our quest for this noble goal that we take the steps that actually have a real impact in this regard, without negatively impacting the experience of the Internet and its end users as a whole.

Today, the best option is clearly education and technology, coupled with parental involvement, which is essential. You simply cannot adequately protect children’s best interests in the digital age without all three.

For more information on how you can help, please visit the ASACP website (www.asacp.org) or email tim@asacp.org or vince@asacp.org — and thank you for your support!


Founded in 1996, ASACP is a non-profit organization dedicated to online child protection. ASACP is comprised of two separate corporate entities, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection and the ASACP Foundation. The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. ASACP manages a membership program that provides resources to companies in order to help them protect children online. The ASACP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The ASACP Foundation battles child pornography through its CP Reporting Hotline and helps parents prevent children from viewing age-restricted material online with its Restricted To Adults (RTA) website label (www.rtalabel.org). ASACP has invested nearly 17 years in developing progressive programs to protect children, and its relationship in assisting the adult industry’s child protection efforts is unparalleled. For more information, visit www.asacp.org.