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U.K. on a fool's errand trying to ban online porn

British Prime Minister David Cameron has embarked on a rather humorous endeavour to try and save the United Kingdom from porn.

Entrepreneur and former porn star Ron Jeremy hawking new booze line and … other stuff (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty)

British Prime Minister David Cameron has embarked on a rather humorous endeavour. He’s trying to 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 U.K. 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% 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 humorous because it’s doomed to fail for a host of reasons.

Firstly, 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 resultant 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 any country were successful in banning online porn, however, it’s a safe bet its Internet traffic would take a 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.