Confusion reigns over a new partnership between the UK government and the region’s largest ISPs. What we know is that Sky, British Telecom, TalkTalk and Virgin have teamed with Prime Minister David Cameron to make it easier for parents to block pornography.
What we don’t know is whether filtering of pornographic websites will be on by default, with the option to be disabled, or off by default, with the option to be turned on. We also don’t know how, technically, the filtering will be executed. And related, how difficult it is to bypass. We don’t even know how “pornographic” will be defined.
Even without knowing any of that, I can say with relative certainty that this is an idea that won’t work and shouldn’t be done. More on that in a moment, but first, a comment on how some people use OpenDNS.
Something we don’t talk about often is the dual nature of OpenDNS’s benefit to our 30 million-plus customers around the world. While a good portion of those folks use OpenDNS software to filter web content and keep their kids safe online, many people in countries like Algeria, Egypt and Turkey use OpenDNS for an entirely different and even opposite reason. Those countries happen to be three of the top government-imposed Internet-censoring countries in the world and our customers who live there are often able to use our service to access the wide-open Internet. It allows them to quickly and easily bypass government-imposed filters that are done through the DNS. We fully support that and believe that people should control their own means of accessing the Internet.
Back to this UK porn filtering idea. We believe web content filtering should happen at the edge. The edge means the “last mile” where your home or computer connects to the Internet, or where your office connects to the Internet. Doing filtering at the ISP level is what I would describe as “the core.” We don’t think ISPs or Government should mandate what you can and cannot access, nor should they modify or censor packets that leave your network. We’re thrilled to be the choice of millions of people who want to block malware, botnets, and sometimes even pornography on their network, but we would never want usage of OpenDNS to be mandated by the Government. We prefer when our customers choose us and when our customers set us up themselves.
OpenDNS has become part of the discussion in the UK today because many have pointed out that we do what Cameron is trying to do with the new filter. There are important differences though. It’s true, OpenDNS can be enabled today in every household in the UK with children, empowering parents to block what they deem unsafe or inappropriate for their family. But OpenDNS can be configured differently for each household, as opposed to a blanket filter, which it appears is what is being proposed by the UK government.
Our stance here is simple: We think parents should have the tools to keep their kids safe. For some parents that means having access to web content filtering software, but for other parents it just means a conversation with their kids. That’s a choice best left to parents, and we don’t think that any form of government intervention is appropriate here.