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.


Sherry Rashad said...

As one of President-elect Barack Obama's biggest supporters, we - the women nettizens - should put it upon ourselves to tackle the problem of online censorship which in the 21st Century became too Orwellian. Maybe the Walt Disney company should be suing the creators and implementators of these Orwellian Search Engine blockers operating in the guise of being "Kid Safe" and "Child Friendly" as opposed to suing YOU TUBE. I do believe that "sex criminals" should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but not at the expense on our right to free speech. Disney's current cash cow - Miley Cyrus / Hanna Montana - has been unfairly victimized by these Orwellian Child Safe Kid Friendly search engines. Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair are not, I repeat not purveyors of child pornography.

Ian said...

I too agree that Disney should direct their lawsuits at makers of overtly "Orwellian" search engine blockers posing as child/kid safe. Our school's Internet won't allow students access to official Miley Cyrus and Hanna Montana sites. Even those which don't contain the controversial Vanity Fair photos. Has censorship ever fed the poor and hungry people in parts of Africa currently affected by civil strife?

Tallulah said...

I too agree that the newly US President-elect Barack Obama should tackle the US economic crisis / Home Foreclosure problem first before undoing the censorship debacle caused by President Ronald Reagan era executive malfeasance, like the then Attorney General Meese's "Pornography Commission".
Next, Disney should be chasing after the developers of overzealous search engine site blockers instead of suing YOU TUBE for copyright infingement. Blockers had been depriving Disney of reveneue for far too long from their official Hanna Montana / Miley Cyrus sites that are arbitrarily deemed "pornographic" by these site blockers. A certain Internet Cafe near where I live won't allow useful blogs to show like the Allergic Girl Blog which is about the site about peanut allergy awareness.
On a legal standpoint, aren't search engine blockers operating under the "Kid Safe" / "Child Safe" guise violate existing Better Business ordinances? To me, their developers are guilty of emotional blackmail - which the last time I checked - is illegal under most better business statutes. I hope the Electronic Frontier Foundation will tackle this very intransigent problem. The net has become too Orwellian thanks to these search engine blockers.

Michelle said...

Do you find it extreemly annoying that some people resort to emotional blackmail like its a part of their cultural heritage. Even during the Yuletide Season, they do resort to it just to smooch some of your hard-earned cash. On the subject of those supposedly child-safe search engine blockers, had they ever prevented the on-going genocide in the Darfur Region of Sudan? Are child-safe search engines an effective deterrent against Ugandan children from being abducted and turned into child soldiers? Where is the Bush Administration?