A new study has suggested that thousands of underage children risk exposure to online pornography in Britain. Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England Sue Berelowitz has reiterated the suggestions of others who call for stringent age checks to be mandatory for adult websites, significantly cutting the risk of those under 16 coming into contact with material reserved for more mature eyes only.
The research, put forward by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) discovered that around 44,000 primary school children (aged six to eleven) accessed at least one adult website in December 2013, part of 200,000 under-16’s that were able to do the same. Accuracy of these figures is maintained by the use of tracking and recording PC usage for the duration of the study instead of simply relying on the testimony of those involved. One particular site, which offers up thousands of free pornography videos, was visited by 112,000 of the teenagers that took part.
The figures from this comprehensive study will no doubt be put towards the government, as ATVOD continues to seek more power when it comes to applying stricter rules to websites that don’t seem to care about whether children can view their adult content or not. Such rules may be hard to enforce however, with almost all of the pornographic pages visited by children during the study linked to websites based abroad, in countries with less stringent views on the matter.
Many companies that provide these websites have responded to previous objections regarding easy access to their explicit material by stating that parents should apply Internet filters for peace of mind. Pornography exposure to thousands of children in Britain has been curbed in recent months, with ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) introducing simpler ways for parents to block unwanted websites. However, a study by regulator Ofcom earlier this year found that 18% of 12 to 15-year-olds know how to disable these filters, rendering the change completely redundant for some.
In an age where one of the younger generation’s main advantages over their older counterparts lies in technology, it is almost impossible to protect children completely from the darker side of web surfing.
Referring to their research, ATVOD did say that sample sizes for the youngest children that took part were quite small, and stressed that the figures relating to those under the age of 11 should be treated with caution. On the other hand, it went on to state that overall numbers were likely to be much higher than those released, as technical limitations prevented them from extracting data from handheld internet portals such as smartphones and tablets.
As far as stemming this seemingly uncontrollable example of vulnerability, the regulator wants to pressurise credit and debit card companies into boycotting their services from websites that aren’t doing enough to ensure only adults are accessing their material. The concern with this is that such action will turn out to hurt advertisers on the sites more than the sites themselves.
ATVOD continues to work tirelessly to maintain a sense of control over the now unmanageable web, with main strategies at the moment also aimed at the accessibility of online gambling to underage users. The question remains whether they will be able to reduce pornography exposure to thousands of children in Britain, as the Internet continues to grow and regulators struggle to keep up.
Opinion by Zachary John