Britain’s futile quest to ban Internet porn

If a country were to successfully ban online porn, it’s a safe bet Internet traffic would nosedive

British Prime Minister David Cameron has embarked on a rather humourous endeavour to try and save the United Kingdom from porn. Earlier this week, it was reported that, at Cameron’s behest, the four largest Internet service providers in the UK would begin an opt-in program where they would automatically block porn websites unless customers explicitly said they wanted them.

No sooner did the ink (real or virtual) dry on that story than those same ISPs—BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin—started talking about how the system would have no effect. The opt-in process, it turns out, will apply only to brand new customers, which means very little because only about 5 per cent of people change service providers in a given quarter.

That’s not exactly the best way to say it will have no effect—after all, at that rate it will only take 10 quarters or two-and-a-half years to block the majority of the country from porn. Still, the ISPs’ chafing at the idea is what makes Cameron’s effort humourous because it’s doomed to fail for a host of reasons.

First, there are the freedom of speech issues. The Australian government’s effort to enact a similar ban has hit all kinds of snags, from coalition partners refusing to support it to several big ISPs refusing to play ball, even with something as universally deplorable as child porn. Things have gotten downright silly Down Under, with the banning efforts extending to erotica that features small-breasted women, which supposedly encourages pedophilia. The resulting joke, of course, is that Australians want their porn stars to have big boobs.

Then there are the logistical problems. How, exactly, does something qualify for the banned list?

Banning porn on the Internet is ultimately a fool’s errand. It’s here to stay and, while laws and technology can try to help, in the end its parents’ responsibility to ensure their kids aren’t getting to where they shouldn’t be.

If a country were to successfully ban online porn, however, it’s a safe bet its Internet traffic would nosedive. While accurate numbers are tough to come by, there are some hints that suggest pornography still makes up a good chunk of traffic. Five of the 100 most-visited websites (that are in English) are porn-related, according to Alexa rankings, while Ogi Ogas – author of A Billion Wicked Thoughtssays about 13% of web searches are for erotic content.

Applying this chain of logic to Canada, if Internet providers here really were worried about congestion on their networks, they wouldn’t be enacting usage-based billing to try and slow consumption with the likes of Netflix. They’d be trying to get porn banned.




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Britain’s futile quest to ban Internet porn

  1. An overwhelming presence of porn is an excellent metric for free expression generally, and similarly, trying so furiously to suppress it betrays a none-too-subtle contempt for the individual and personal preference in relation to the state.

  2. If you ban something people want, they will spend all the more time and money to get it, or will explore next-best alternatives, that are more harmful, both to themselves and to society. You create a huge market, either overseas, or an illicit one at home—and these monies often flow directly into the hands of organized criminals.

  3. the four largest Internet service providers in the UK would begin an
    opt-in program where they would automatically block porn websites unless
    customers explicitly said they wanted them

    Isn’t that an “opt-out” program?? 

    Customers aren’t opting in to internet filtering, they’re being forced to opt-OUT of internet filtering.  Customers’ traffic is filtered until they opt OUT of the filtering, right?  If a filtering program is applied automatically to all customers, and customers are required to actively request that the filtering be turned off, then the program is opt-out, not opt-in, isn’t it???

    • Noooo, sir. It’s Opt-In. The state wants you to have to actively admit you want porn, as part of the official shaming. You’re not opting out of heavy-handed censorship; you’re opting in to those sites that, Number 10 wants you to know, you are a very bad person for liking. Big Brother cares deeply about your moral well-being, citizen, and only wants what’s best for everyone.

      • :-)

        Thankfully, no one will EVER get past Big Brother’s filters.  If there’s one thing I know about the internet, it’s that it’s easy to control.

        I wish PM Cameron luck in his upcoming war with Anonymous and LulzSec.

  4. I am a single guy. do i like porn? hell yeah..but i have seen it totally ruin a  lot of relationships/marriages/families..people have losts jobs because of internet porn..i am not one for censorship or people deciding what we can/ cannot watch..but internet porn is a huge problem…

    • ok but is it the porn that is the cause of this or is it just a factor? anybody who looks a porn at work has bigger issues. If your marriage fails, porn might be a factor but its not the cause

    • Define “problem.”

  5. It’s silly and impossible to ban porn. The challenge is to communicate with our kids and explain to them that, contrary to popular cultural belief, supporting the porn industry — and I am really talking about teens and young adults here; mature adults can do what they want, so says the 1st Amendment — exploits the performers, confuses youth about love/lust, and renders otherwise innocent youth into prostitutes when they are paid for their performances with money, favors and drugs. There’s a reason porn is done “in secret” — because it ruins lives and marriages.

  6. Pleased to see that with the dire economic situation in Europe, the fall out from the riots, and all the other serious issues facing the UK at the moment, the Tories can still find time to put energy into non-issues like this.

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