Thursday, October 23, 2008

Child-Safe Search Engines: Too Orwellian?

The threat of cyber-bullying, malicious sites and on-line paedophilia are real, but are child-safe search engines overprotecting our kids to the extent that they can hardly do anything interesting on-line anymore?

By: Vanessa Uy

The threats are out there all right, but don’t you find some – if not most of them - child-safe / kid-friendly search engines too Big Brother-y Orwellian for comfort? I do agree that no kids should be allowed access to websites deemed too inappropriate for their age group like hardcore pornography. But as of late, I do find some child-safe / kid-friendly search engine site blockers too overly zealous of their intended functions.

I first experienced this first hand after volunteering in a personal computer refurbishing charity group. Some PC s have child-safe site-blockers that don’t even allow blogs to pass through – even public safety / health related sites concerning allergy awareness. Less aggressive ones blocks blogs with Google adsense features, while some I just find their site blocking “antics” so idiosyncratically amusing.

A case in point is this bunch of donated PC from a US “grain belt” district equipped with a “supposedly” child-safe search engine blocker that deny searches to sites with the words “naked” and “breasts” in them. To the extent that cooking recipe websites titled “Amazing Chicken Breast Recipes” are blocked or denied access. So does astronomy / astrophysics sites with “Black Hole” / “Naked Singularity” subjects in them. Is modern astrophysics too taboo for practicing Creationists and Intelligent Design practitioners? A bypass feature / search block disable proviso is fortunately included in those bunch of donated PC s that drew my curiosity. Unfortunately you have to type a 64-digit long access code to disable it plus other things tantamount to breaking into / hacking into a 1995-era NORAD / US Space Command firewall.

Sadly, the said computers remain unused, set aside for an intensive “root canal” for it to be useful for everyday use. I hope that creators of these “Orwellian” supposedly child-safe search engines should try to make their products easy to bypass. After all, it’s bad enough for a recently donated PC to be compared to the Republican VP pick Gov. Sarah Palin. Will any of us ever fall in love with a PC equipped with an Orwellian / NAZI-book-burner search engine? I just hope that overzealous child-safe search engine blockers will never be installed in laptops intended for use in the global One Laptop Per Child Program. It would be tantamount to censorship and against the US First Amendment / free speech laws.