Unfiltered


According to BT its parental controls are ‘completely customisable’ and apparently it is possible to add specific sites to allow or block which, unless you’re Claire Perry, is obviously essential. Even so I’ve experienced just how pointless internet filters are before, so I’m keen to avoid ‘porn’ filters on my home broadband connection for as long as possible.

CoffeeGeek-filter

I don’t know how filtering works on other ISPs but these are just a few of the problems with BT’s implementation which contributed to an upcoming switch to a completely unfiltered broadband provider:

  • Applies same filtering to every device… hopefully there aren’t actually any homes without adults around. Apparently they do allow you to schedule when the filter is active but that seems like a solution from the last century.
  • There’s no way for me to find out if a site would be blocked by the filter. There are sites I might want to make certain are blocked but I obviously wouldn’t want to have to visit them to find out!
  • There’s no way for site owners to find out if their own site would be blocked by the filter.
  • The standard filtering has a couple of glaring omissions which I would be interested in: I want to block adverts targeted at children, and I want to block any form of tracking.

There are more details of BT’s filtering in the Open Rights Group blog post, BT answers our questions about parental controls.

Photo © Mark (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Warning: This post contains pornographic words


Apparently few things matter more to David Cameron than protecting children on the internet. Perhaps he’s planning to increase the funding available to tackle online child abuse, which would be useful. Apparently not, which is a pity because Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

opacity-toolset

So what is David going to do to protect children on the internet? Nothing very useful as far as I can tell. In fact, probably the opposite. The internet, like life, is complicated. In the simplest terms I can think of, the internet is not safe for children, but actually that’s ok, and is no different to a lot of other things.

You wouldn’t expect young children to be using a chainsaw on their own, but you would also find it pretty difficult to cut a tree down with plastic safety scissors. You wouldn’t expect older children to use a band saw on their own, but it would be ok if they were supervised while learning to use one safely.

I would agree with the suggestion that parents aren’t given enough help, but a ‘one click’ on/off filter on a shared internet connection is really really not the answer. You need lots of tools; maybe playpens for the very young, corner protectors when they can walk, right up to an idiots guide to the internet for older politicians!

Aside from the fact that blocking and filtering just tend to annoy people who are trying to access perfectly legitimate content, and MPs haven’t even really defined what they want to block, there are downsides to creating a UK intranet. There are already more than enough places with over zealous filters, like O2 and Orange, or libraries, and there can already be real financial implications to manipulating search engine results with no transparency or oversight.

Perhaps even this post/blog has been blocked. Ok, the world wouldn’t be much worse off in that case, but I am more concerned about other sites which are likely to be blocked unintentionally, especially now that I have a child. You see, it’s not quite as simple as the Prime Minister makes out. I may face some very tricky conversations as my child grows up, and they would be more difficult if they and I aren’t able to search for information and support. I had naively assumed that banning rape porn would be one simple thing that everyone would agree with, but even that subject isn’t quite as straight forward as you would hope. I hope that reading challenging articles about difficult subjects will prepare me for being a better parent. I know that a web filter won’t.

I’ll be holding on to unfiltered internet access as long as possible.

(Of course the internet isn’t the only place children might see porn. I assume they’ll be announcing a filtered version of the Sun tomorrow…)

Photo © Anne Petersen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Digital Curtain


The internet was a bit dingy yesterday as part of a worldwide protest against some proposed US legislation. There is already plenty of information and commentary about the latest attempts to tackle issues of ‘piracy’ at the expense of a free and open internet so I won’t try and repeat it all here. I did want to say something though since, basically, I don’t actually get a say. While the Digital Economy Act here in the UK was hardly a shinning example of democracy in action, its impact was at least limited to people within the UK who could in theory influence the final outcome at an election.

The thing that seriously concerns me about the US proposals are the extraterritorial implications. Perhaps I’ll be getting a postal vote in the next US elections, along with everyone else using the internet. I hope they send it to my new address.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and I hope attempts to tamper with the workings of the internet only make it better. I’ve long thought that DNS is basically flawed, so perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to work on improvements like IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System). And the sooner the internet routes around the UK and US, the better!

Photo © Federico Negro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A brief history of web versions


Listening to the “Web 3.0: Are We There Yet?” DM Radio broadcast has got me grumbling about the latest version of The Web again. To be fair, it isn’t just a web thing; I get the same urge to scream whenever marketing types start messing about with version numbers. There was some interesting discussion on that DM Radio episode as well, but that’s not what this post is about.

Just to be absolutely clear, The Web does not have A Version. It’s not helpful. Stop it.

Having had a similar moan about Web 2.0 on my internal blog some years ago, I decided to catch up with the latest Web 3.0 hype. One of the first things I found were these Web 3.0 slides. Which really wasn’t a good start, given I disagree with just about everything in them. Since web versions seem to be a participation sport, here’s my web fiction to illustrate:

Web 0.9

Nothing ever starts with version 1 does it?! At this point I think I should apologise for my part in the demise of the internet… my first experience of the internet was when I started university in 1993… sorry about the mess.

Still, contrary to alternative histories, the web didn’t start with media companies being so kind as to push content to users. My recollection is that it started with all content being user generated, whether that was usenet content, or hand crafted HTML content. Businesses weren’t on this version of the web.

Web 1.0

Search. For me that’s what would really be worthy of a new version number. In the beginning the web really was a web, of links. I still like following links to see where the web takes me, hence the stupid number of tabs I have open most of the time, just waiting for a chance to get round to reading them. Even so, being able to find stuff without stumbling across it, or being given a specific URL, is great. Thanks Google… and those other search engines I used back then (maybe they even still exist).

Still plenty of user generated content in Web 1.0. Geocities for example- oh how we’ve moved on. You don’t even need to upgrade to get social networking: Six Degrees and Friends Reunited. Maybe even Friendster if you upgrade to Web 2.0 a bit late.

Oh yes, and businesses begin to get in on the act by inflating a huge bubble. Nice.

Web 2.0

There hasn’t been enough hype up to this point, so the web gets its first version number. Luckily everyone agrees on exactly what Web 2.0 is. If only it was that clear, and I certainly wasn’t the only one who was skeptical. Around the same time, I was also muttering…

Are you a Web 2.0 sceptic?! (27 Jan 2006)

I am.

Why Web 2.0 all of a sudden? Shouldn’t we be on Web 6.1 or something by now?! (No, seriously; from text based, to graphics, to that little Java guy waving at you everywhere, to blinking text, to scripts, to buying stuff, to css, to getting scammed, to PHP, to friends reunited, to the internet2, and all the other stuff I’ve missed. And now we have the Web 2.0? Whatever.)

Sure, technology and business models are still advancing, and smart stuff is happening, but I can’t work out whether the Web 2.0, dare I say hype, is driven by money (so you have a web site, why not do e-business, but hey, you really want to be on-demand don’t you?), techies (my new widget is shinier than yours!) or a combination of both. Will it be the next .com? And what’s planned for Web 3.0?

The  appetite for user generated content is stronger than ever, with more users and more (and easier) ways to share stuff. Much less mucking about with geeky markup… unless you pick the wrong wiki. (I still fail to understand why a inconsistent wiki markup was better than plain old HTML.)

Web 3.0

Now things get even more ridiculous, “we already know what the next development in web technology will be called, we just don’t know what it is yet.

For a while it looked like Web 3.0 might neatly be in 3D, but virtual worlds appear to be well and truly down in the trough of disillusionment now. Another contender is the Semantic Web, but wait a minute a) that already has a name, and b) haven’t we been waiting for that ages already, maybe even before Web 2.0? I guess a nice descriptive name is no reason not to use a meaningless fictitious version number instead!

There are plenty of other features floating around which might make it in to the Web 3.0 version.

Web 4.0

That’s right, we haven’t even reached Web 3.0 yet and there’s already a Web 4.0! (Probably many Web 4.0s!) Maybe we should just skip a few versions!

The graph on Ambiguating the terminology: Web 4.0 is a great illustration of why version numbers don’t make any sense.

The web continuum

So, to recap, the web doesn’t have a version number! Its development is a continuum of evolving technologies. I can see there’s a case for looking at the web’s development from a higher level than each individual component, but wouldn’t more descriptive names be more useful than meaningless versions? Early Web, Dynamic Web, Social Web, Semantic Web, Internet of Things, Mobile Web, Smarter Web, Virtual Web. No? Just as meaningless? Oh well.

Luckily, if you completely disagree with all this ranting, this weblog is fully Web 2.5 enabled, so you can leave your own thoughts below. Why not let me know what version of the web you use and how often you upgrade?!

Digital House Arrest


The Digital Economy Bill is exactly the kind of ill-considered law I have come to expect from the current government, however I am very disappointed in the apparent lack of opposition from the other parties.

Today I received a reply from my MP, Chris Huhne, following my email and letter to him about the bill, unfortunately I had already read the same response on the Liberal Democrat Voice before his letter arrived. I appreciate the time he took to reply but the LibDem team will only be getting half a cheer from me, and here’s why.

Chris begins his letter by largely supporting the Digital Economy Bill, stating that many aspects of the bill are vitally important to the UK’s creative industries. Having read the bill, I just don’t believe that. For a start, the bill has very little to do with a digital economy, containing a pick ‘n’ mix of barely related clauses (‘wide ranging’ in politician speak):

Tinkering with Television and Radio Broadcasting Bill

Chris is happy that the bill changes Channel 4’s remit, changes regional news on ITV and plans to make all my analog radios useless. Apart from buying new radios to listen to the same thing, will anyone notice? There’s also some stuff in there on radio licenses and it looks like the days of teletext are numbered.

Are you Really Old Enough to be Playing that Video Game Bill

Chris also supports classification of computer games. Well at least anyone who isn’t old enough will know which games to get hold of to impress their mates.

We are Aware There are Some Problems with Copyright Laws and This is the Best we Could Come up with Bill

The Liberal Democrats support the creative industries, so I’m puzzled that Chris doesn’t even mention the “Extension and regulation of licensing of copyright and performers’ rights” clause. Strangely, some current copyright holders don’t seem too keen to get this kind of support. I’m not surprised given how little respect some creative industries have for copyright already. Public lending also gets a spit and polish for audio books and e-books.

So from my quick flick through, that’s all the vitally important parts of the bill (?) leaving…

Enforcing Copyright Yourself is Just Such a Bore Bill

Before going any further, I should make it absolutely clear that I am not fundamentally opposed to copyright law, and I actually work in an industry where copyright protection is important. That said, I personally think that copyright laws should be an incentive for the creative industries to, well, create new content. I have been concerned for a long time that neither the public nor creative individuals get a particularly fair deal from the current arrangements. As with the law in general, the odds are stacked in favour of people with the most money and this bill only makes matters worse.

Without any new legislation, the creative industries should already be able to take action against illegal downloading using the internet, in the same way they can take action regardless of how the illegal copyright material was obtained. Apparently that’s not good enough, so under the guise of a digital economy bill, they want new powers to protect the old economy.

There are plenty of things the creative industries could do to help themselves. I suggest that first on the list for them to try would be to stop treating their paying customers with such contempt. I hope they’ve already stopped installing dangerous software on my computer without my permission, but how about competing with the pirates to make watching a DVD more enjoyable, or allowing me to watch a DVD I’ve paid for where ever I want to, or not changing your mind after you sold me something? With this kind of behaviour I would expect any changes of the law to include more regulation for the creative industries, not more protection for them. It’s ironic that none of the quarter of a million creative people who’s jobs are allegedly at risk can come up with some better ideas, especially given that they really should have the most to gain from a digital economy.

Access to the internet may not be a fundamental right, but how can you seriously expect to have a digital economy if people are at risk of digital house arrest? As I told Chris Huhne, I don’t believe disconnection is a proportional response even if it did only effect one person, who was proved to have downloaded something illegally beyond reasonable doubt. Would you stop someone leaving their house if they came home from the market with counterfeit jeans? How can we have a digital economy when a single industry has a veto over whether any other industry can do business with their customers over the internet? Access to online government services? No. Online bank account? No. Paperless billing? Think again. Internet shopping? Not any more. Working at home? Time for a holiday. NHS Direct? Please phone… unless you’re using Skype of course. Smart metering? The lights are on but no-one’s home.

This is by no means a full discussion of the issues, but then I’m not in parliament where all of these issues and more should be getting some serious debate. Sadly there’s a chance no one will be able to have that debate in parliament. Oh well, good luck UK plc, you’re going to need it.

Update: A few related posts generated manually to go with the ones WordPress found. (28 March 2010)

Update: A couple of Guardian articles on the Digital Economy Bill (31 March 2010)

Update: A depressing day following the #debill debate, but a found a few more articles along the way. (6 April 2010)

After today’s idiotic debate in parliament, I wonder if more people might be tempted to stand for election to show politicians that they can’t just push whatever they like through parliament when no one is looking. The close of nominations is 4 pm on Tuesday 20 April 2010 and for a coordinated effort there’s a deadline of 12 April 2010 to register a new party. Just a thought.

Update: No big surprise that the bill went through the washup, demonstrating the poor state of the UK democracy along the way. (8 April 2010)

Let’s just hope that candidates get some tough questions on the subject when they’re out campaigning.

Update: The morning after… (9 April 2010)

And finally, someone who will be keeping my vote: TalkTalk!

Google wide web


Earlier today I was reminded that working with computers all day gives you a different view of the internet to, for want of a better word, normal people! For instance, I don’t use Google to find sites I already know about, preferring URLs or del.icio.us, while I think to some people Google is the internet. They use Google, and feel lucky, when they are returning to a previous site. I was also asked why Google doesn’t always find the right site- they were looking for a hotel and the search results included the one they were looking for, along with hotels of the same name in different places. Targeting the right search results to people, instead of adverts, might be interesting, if we’re going to be watched anyway that is.

Later in the day Google failed me as I was unable to find anything about some artwork from my time at Warwick (it was a traffic cone and plastic pipe triffid-like sculpture which appeared in different locations around campus each day – brilliant – but can’t find it anywhere using google, or on flickr, hmmm). Still, it seems that Warwick blogs and I did stumble across a review of something I was thinking of getting for a spot of DIY home automation. Perhaps random Google search results are the modern day alternative to reading tea leaves?