The Guardian yesterday reported that the UK Culture Secretary plans to introduce a cinema-style “age-rating” for websites.  He’s apparently going to contact Barack Obama once he’s got up and running in the White House to try and set up some form of web site certification.  Not being one to set his sights too high, the “plan” is to involve only English language sites, but to compel ISPs to provide packages to provide the means to block unrated sites.

I presume such packages would be OS-independent, and an optional add-on.  Of course a number of likely problems loom over the horizon, including the scale of the internet.  How many web sites are there out there?  Back in February 2007, this question was asked at Boutell.com, and the answer was ” more than 108 million”.  Goodness knows how accurate that estimate is, and how the number may have increased since then!   The same site estimates the number of web pages in February 2007 to be in excess of 29.7 billion.

What perturbs me about the moves to net censorship (for that is really what all these “plans” are in actuality), is that a great deal of resource will be used to implement them, at a time when resources are scarce, and perhaps might be better employed in improvements to the network hardware, at least in the UK.

I spend several hours a day on the internet, both at work and at home, and rarely encounter offensive web sites.  Of course that might reflect my standards of “offensive”, but most probably that I don’t go looking for dubious web sites.  So is there really a problem?  Do kids root around the web looking for dodgy material?  Do they routinely get exposed  to nasty people and ther opinions or activities?  I don’t really know the answers to these questions, and nor, I suspect, do those politicians advocating greater interference in the internet.

After all the brouhaha surrounding the “Great Firewall of China” and its impact on internet freedom in China (but mostly as it affected western journalists their to cover the Olympics), it’s been instructive to see the limited fuss over the IWF’s recent tribulations, the bizarre net filtering plans of the Australian Government, and the UK Government’s plans to keep a database of all our communications (the interestingly named  Interception Modernisation Programme).  Finally, beware function creep – what may be offered as an optional “feature” by the ISPs, may end up as compulsion by central Government.

Postscript – to brighten up this blog entry, I did a quick Google image search, only to discover a genuine app called Net Nanny