UK Plans to Keep Kids Safe on the Web, Ignores History

2008 is drawing to a close, a new U.S. Presidential Administration is on the threshold of taking power and the UK is seriously looking to the largest age restriction initiative ever undertaken in the history of the internet.

In the UK, there is a such thing as a Culture Secretary who is responsible for the entertainment of British subjects. I kid you not. This is a Cabinet-level position in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. According to the official website, Culture is responsible to “improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, to support the pursuit of excellence and to champion the tourism, creative and leisure industries”.

That’s right. Culture has their hand in your family trip to the amusement park, the art museum or a trip to the ballpark.

According to a Daily Telegraph story, they also plan to have their hand in your web-surfing as well. The idea is that Internet Service Providers servicing the UK would be required to provide child-safe surfing opportunities. The trickle down would be that website owners and developers would have to adhere to a “ratings” system, similar to what is in place for motion pictures and video games.

They plan to work closely with the Obama administration to ensure that the standards established are not simply UK-centric, but also US-centric. In essence, the governments are attempting to ramrod a standard down the throats of the western world.

To be fair, there is justification in wanting to see a child-safe portion of the web. We all want what is best for kids, but the truth is that parenting starts at home and does not involve a village. What I would prefer to see is a recommended set of standards that would assist parents in screening and moderating the internet activity of their child.

Also to be fair, history tells us that simply declaring standards for the web does not ensure that such standards are adhered to. A full eight years later, the best commonplace standard for web markup (XHTML 1.0 Transitional if you must know) has yet to be fully adopted. U.S. Government websites are required to be Section 508 Compliant (which is a set of standards to assist in accessibility, particularly for those who are blind or colorblind). Many government sites still do not meet this standard.

Even outside the web, the DTV transition fast approaches, yet it fast approaches again and it is doubtful if it will actually arrive in February as is currently projected. That is because the new standard has not been quickly adopted and the government is forced to extend their deadline.

In the best of scenarios, the web industry self-polices as it always has. In the best situation, we come together and innovated around a widely accepted and understood standard. In the best scenario, the government utilizes the standards and innovations that the web industry itself has created to solve the very real problem of creating a child-safe internet.

But at the end of the day, the Village cannot solve this problem. We can only bring ideas and tools to the table. Nothing we, or the government, do will protect children. Parents have that responsibility and should exercise their roles, instead of passing the buck to someone else.