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Google warns against ISPs hard on web filth

Meanwhile, Mail columnist visits p0rn site. Gasp

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Big Tent Google may not be willing to comment on how much money it makes from pornography online, but the search giant's UK public policy head Sarah Hunter has unsurprisingly urged caution when it comes to ISPs filtering content over their networks.

Speaking at Google's annual Big Tent event in Watford this morning, Hunter gently tussled with a panel that included TalkTalk's executive director Andrew Heaney, the Daily Mail's Amanda Platell and Index on Censorship's Kirsty Hughes over how to protect children from smut on the internet.

The typical arguments for and against were rolled out by the panelists, with Heaney leading the charge in favour of network filtering as a parental "choice".

TalkTalk is the first big name telco in Blighty to apply a network filtering tool to its service. Heaney said he wanted that system to serve as a model for other ISPs by arguing that the government should encourage TalkTalk's rivals and device makers to adopt such an "opt-in" blocking service.

He countered against Hughes' concerns about censorship by saying that it "seemed odd that people are advocating not protecting children".

Hughes suggested that TalkTalk's argument in favour of filtering was simplistic.

Meanwhile, Platell confessed that she visited the well-known PornHub website last night, and the Mail columnist added that she was "appalled" by what she found there.

The audience was quick to point out that the online version of her newspaper is regularly covered wall-to-wall in bikini-clad women.

Platell judged that such titillation is "OK". She had begun her opposition to what some might label as more extreme porn by stating that her paper did not "believe in stripping away civil liberties" – a comment that was greeted with much derision from the room.

She also suggested (to more laughter) that porn found in the likes of Playboy magazine in the pre-internet age wasn't as bad as some of the content found on the interwebs.

Hunter broadly agreed with some of the comments from Platell and Heaney but added that Google had different ideas about what "mechanisms should be used to protect children".

She noted that the current network filtering solution offered by TalkTalk could "overblock or underblock" content. The policy wonk later added that "the level of secrecy and lack of transparency around the way filters work" needed to be addressed.

Heaney said his company was "not trying to oversell" its filtering system because it was offered to customers as a choice to, in effect, censor what material their kids see online.

Hunter argued that Google needed to make more effort to educate parents, but batted aside the question of exactly how much money Google makes from pornography, instead preferring to gently push for safeguards. Bless. ®

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