Internet filters effectiveness questioned by Oxford University

Internet filter

Protecting teenagers from online nasties has become a big target for the UK government but new research from Oxford University has found that internet filters installed to do that job leave a lot to be desired.

The internet is awash with disturbing and unsavoury material and in an effort to protect young impressionable minds from becoming desensitised to graphic images and more importantly pornography, internet filters have become commonplace.

Research

Recent research published in The Journal of Pediatrics and carried out by Oxford University suggests that such filters may not be doing the job that they are intended to which is to protect teenagers online.

Internet filters attempt to take the place of a watchful eye blocking access to certain websites when keywords are detected or when known sites such as popular porn havens like RedTube are attempted to be accessed.

The effectiveness of internet filters was called “dubious” by researchers and it was suggested that it would be better suited to teach teenagers resilience when faced with unexpected harmful content.

Analysing

As part of the research the university analysed data from a recent study done by watchdog Ofcom that involved families with teenagers between ages of 12 and 15 who live in the UK.

The survey questions parents on their internet filtering practices and if they were aware of such mechanisms being active on their home connection or devices connected to their home network.

Only one third of parents said they made use of internet filters with a quarter unaware about filtering technology.

A worrying 1 in 6 teenagers said they had a negative experience while using the internet which included being contacted online by someone they didn’t know, seeing something that made them feel uncomfortable or finding someone else pretending to be them.

The team behind the research concluded that internet filtering did not appear to stop such events from happening even though the presumption is that internet filtering will indeed result in this.

Automatic Internet Filtering failing

Previous UK Prime Minister David Cameron introduced requirements for the major UK internet providers to automatically switch on filters with households required to opt-out if they wished.

The research suggested that these automatic filters could do more harm than good.

Poorly implemented filters could block legitimate websites such as sexual health information and sites related to minority groups like lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens. The outcome being that teenagers could be left unable to access information on such topics.

Researchers recommend that rather than focus on technical means which can be flawed it is more important to educate teenagers about the inherent dangers of the internet, how to limit bad experiences and in the unfortunate cases where this can not be limited how to deal with the resulting unpleasantness.

Dr Andrew Przybylski lead author of the Oxford paper said, “Parents may feel reassured knowing they have internet filters in their home, but our results suggests that such filters do not safeguard against young people seeing things that may frighten or upset them.”

As we have long advocated at VPNCompare and wrote about back in 2013 in our why family filters are wrong article, technical solutions can leave parents with a false sense of security and with the report showing nearly 10% of teenagers in the survey claimed they were technically competent enough to bypass filters parents should be rightly concerned.