Report: Mandatory Controls Could Harm Children

Stephen Yagielowicz
WASHINGTON — A new report by The Progress & Freedom Foundation's Adam Thierer casts doubt on the effectiveness of government-mandated parental controls set by default on media devices such as disc players and game consoles — and Internet access.

The report, entitled "The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults," concludes that mandated controls would have unintended consequences and would not achieve the goal of better protecting children from objectionable content — and worse yet, the belief that government action has "fixed" the problem of children's access to potentially harmful materials might falsely appease consumers while providing unintended incentives for industry to stop investing in parental controls.

"One of the most unfortunate consequences of such a mandate would be that it might lull some parents into a false sense of security." Thierer said. "If parents came to believe that because a filter was installed they need do nothing more to help their children go online safely, or become engaged in their media choices, that would be an extremely troubling outcome."

XBIZ recently reported on the release of Version 3 of Thierer's book, "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods," which is intended to assist policymakers and parents seeking to protect children from online exposure to potentially harmful materials.

Thierer's latest report suggests increased education would be more effective in helping parents control their child's media consumption than would government regulation.

Thierer, PFF senior fellow and director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom, sees a lack of demand for restrictive tools, partly because many parents monitor their children's media use already and partly because the majority of U.S. households contain no minors.

Negative consumer reactions to such tools could also harm their development and use.

"When consumers are unhappy about a service feature — but companies are not permitted to address that unhappiness by turning off the higher settings — a likely result could be for companies to weaken or even not offer parental controls altogether," Thierer said. "Mandated defaults could also either cause consumers to either purchase devices from outside the country, where such regulations would not be enforceable, or discourage them from purchasing new devices that could contain superior parental control tools."

"The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults," is available on the PFF website.