Phil: You might well have read recently that David Cameron has announced that in the next few years, if you wish to view porn on your computer, you will have to opt-in for it.
At first, you might have though, “Thanks goodness for that, someone has finally thought of the children”.
But like most loudly trumpeted government policies, there are likely to be unintended consequences. One of these could be a big hit on the sales of chick-lit books.
Let me don my nerdy IT hat and explain. There are three ways that this can work. The first is that site on a banned “black list” are blocked by your Internet Service Provider. There are several international lists and most ISPs already block sites on them.
Next, the system can use what is called a “flesh filter” to try and work out what the images on the page are. These exist and can prove entertaining for your local IT department as photos of people on beaches and close up pictures of faces tend to have too many skin tones so find themselves blocked. This results in phone calls to hard-working Helpdesk staff to sort it out. Since most homes don’t have any hard-working Helpdesk staff to call and the ISP doesn’t want to provide them, you can bet this isn’t going to play a big part in the filtering. If it does, then I predict the death of Facebook.
No, the main method of stopping you getting to filth will be good, old-fashioned text filtering. You might not realise it but every search you carry out and every site you visit, is recorded somewhere. When I worked in IT, we used to check server logs for certain banned words. Anyone who typed them into a search would be found out. If those words were in the title of a website, the culprits would be investigated. Even with a few hundred staff we didn’t look very hard unless you were under suspicion. If you were stupid enough to print the page out on a network printer that was situated behind the Helpdesk, well it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to lead to you being in big trouble with your boss.
I bet in our book, Kelvin from IT keeps a very close watch on the stuff Tracey does on-line. Poor lad, it’s mostly going to be shopping with a few work sites thrown in for when her boss Kate walks past, but I bet there are few juicy finds that will make him go goggle eyed when he has to check them out. I know how I reacted when I once had to visit (for official business) that sort of site at work…
Anyway, this is going to happen on a much larger scale. The ISP will be reading everything you download and comparing it against official government rudeness lists. I would love to be in the meeting that decides on these…
“So what”, you say, “I’m not looking at filth, so it won’t affect me.”
Hmmm. Do you read chick-lit? From my limited investigation, there’s some pretty graphic sex in much of it and Candice says I’m too innocent to read 50 Shades of Rumply-Pumpy. I’m only allowed the relatively tame stuff.
And do you own an e-reader? Do you plan to buy one?
Good-oh. So you intend to download your book with all the mucky bits intact through the official filters?
No chance. There’s a lot of words I recognise in there that would set off alarm bells in an IT department.
So, how will it all work? Will chick-lit readers revert to paper so they can get the proper mucky stuff? Will we see a new genre of wholesome chick-lit suitable for the government censors? Will it be Lady Chatterley’s Lover all over again with copies passed around illicitly between consenting adults?