Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blocking and unblocking

A few things have happened that have got me thinking about access control. First off, Jeff Utecht reports how he is going to have to unlearn the habit of skipping sites that are blocked in China, now that he is no longer based there.

Then, yesterday, as I was travelling by train, I got into a conversation with two total strangers. One of them had a daughter who had been studying Islam in religious education at primary school this term past. The kids were making a collage of images to represent the faith, so they all hit Google Images (no warnings about the unauthorised use of copyright material, evidently). On the very first page was the image of a woman being beheaded and a child having his arm driven over by a truck. The kids were traumatised. The teacher was mortified. The parents were incensed.

Apparently, it transpired that the controls are set county wide by the local authorities and someone had reduced the security levels on the netminding software. This sounds very fishy to me, and I wonder if the truth is (a) that no-one at the school knew how to operate the netminder software, and had assumed it was handled elsewhere or (b) that one of the older kids in the school had figured out how to reset things in order to gain access to stuff that was off-limits.

The reaction was that the school immediately shut down all access to the internet. Sledgehammer. Nut.

The third incident also happened yesterday. For the period of the school holidays, we have subscribed to a television service that provides sport coverage and movies for our boys to watch while if they fancy doing so while we're at work. If they try to watch a movie with a certificate of 12 or above, the system asks for a pin number. We're actually quite happy for our kids to watch movies with a 15 certificate, so we looked for a way to increase this age limit.

There isn't one.

So we phoned the service provider and asked how it can be done. Apparently, the only option available to us is to give them the pin number, which automatically also empowers them to buy stuff off the selly telly channels and to watch movies of any sort at all, including hard porn, should it happen to be included in the provision of the service. Obviously the underlying assumption is that there will always be an adult present to enter the pin code. When kids are in their teens, this is increasingly unlikely. When my husband pointed this out to the woman who was assisting him, she said "Ooh. I hadn't thought of that." It transpired that she had given her own son her pin number so that he could watch movies while she was at work, and it hadn't occurred to her that he might be watching all sorts of unsuitable material.

I am not in favour of abdicating our responsibility as adults in respect of the children in our house may or may not see. But I need more control myself over the settings available to me. I don't want to have to go the route of the blanket ban, but it seems there are few alternatives in some cases.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful Karyn. Every post clears my doubts on some of the issues I am facing at the moment. I do not know if I am right but I have asked my son to be honest with me and I have given freesdom to use the internet. Once by unknowingly he had downlosded a clip on football and when he tried to show it to my brother some other things popped up. He started crying and I just switched off the computer. Later, an American friend from my blog suggested that I use this opportunity to tell him about the beauty of a man-woman relationship. He was right, explaining to him that what he saw was gross and a distorted version of some thing sacred and sweet , was easy. This affirmed my faith in him. Reading this Karyn, I think I will blok the sites so that accidentaly he is not exposed to these. Thanks again for reminding me. Hugs

V Yonkers said...

My son eventually tells me everything, but not before I give him the "stare". I was shocked, then, to find out he had a facebook account that a friend at school had helped him set up. This was done at school where they have access to facebook.

Now, I don't have a problem with him having facebook as long as there are some provisions. I was surprised that he could access it at school without any blocks. Like you, I "assumed". Now that I know, however, he had to add me to his friends list. This means that not only he, but his classmates will know that I can monitor what is going on in Facebook. As he goes to a school where his friends are up to 50 miles away, I see there being no problem. And the new controls on facebook means we were able to set up a "safer" space (which we couldn't do last year).

I think as companies see the importance of allowing shades of control (if you only have either/or, why use the technology?) these options will become more common. However, it was such a shock that I (probably one of the only parents at his school with a facebook account)did not find out until a month later that he had the account (had it not been for my sister walking in on he and my niece as he was showing her his facebook page, I probably would not have ever known).

Anonymous said...

My own kids are also very honest, and will usually own up to everything... eventually. The thing that worries me is the damage some of these things can do. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, and once exposed to certain imagery, you can't unsee it. So, while they are still young enough to be my responsibility, I would like to be able to make certain choices for them.

V Yonkers said...

I agree Karyn. My daughter still recalls the image of the naked man that came up when she searched for "Costa Rica Clothes". Even though I was standing right there with her, that one second image was there.

Of course, her reaction was, "euuuuw".