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November 01, 2012 | Peter Bradwell

Getting the facts straight in the parental controls debate

ORG has written to Claire Perry MP asking her to clarify a statistic about parents' use of internet controls, which she used in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday.


Yesterday there was a Westminster Hall debate about the responsibilities of Internet companies. You can read a transcript over at the Parliament website. Be warned - for anybody who cares about freedom of expression online, it doesn't make for particularly pleasant reading. It includes general calls for internet companies to take down offensive material, criticisms of YouTube for publishing the infamous video insulting Mohammed, and the now familiar calls for default-on network filters to protect children online.

It's useful to note that Westminster Hall debates aren't particularly formal interventions or statements of the Government's policy. They are secured by MPs who want to discuss something important to them, and can indicate MPs feelings and signal to the Government what Parliamenarians' priorities might be.  

But even though it's just a Westminster Hall debate, it seemed important to note that I spotted Claire Perry MP citing a statistic that I haven't seen before, and which got my spidey senses tingling. She suggests that the number of parents installing network filters at home has dropped ten percent over the past three years, standing now at 39%.

This seemed to contradict some of the statistics I've seen from recent research such as the EU Kids Online project. They found that "54% of parents say that they block or filter websites at home or and 46% track the websites visited by their children. These findings are far higher than in Europe generally, with the UK topping the country ranking for use of filters", that "The UK is near the top of ranking of countries in terms of parents actively mediating their children’s safety."

So this afternoon I've written to Claire Perry asking her about this statistic - where it's from and what it means. You can read the letter below. We'll let you know her reply as and when we receive one. 

It's an important issue, because too often we see evidence in this debate that doesn't necessarily stand up to scrutiny. For instance, the Safety Net campaign, which has led calls for default-on network filters, state that "1 in 3 10 year olds have seen pornography online (Psychologies Magazine 2010)". This is in the 'The Facts' section of their website. However, the figure comes from a chat that Psychologies magazine had with a group of 14-16 year olds in one school in London in 2010. 

It's important we're dealing with robust evidence, so we are all clear the nature of the problem we're looking at.  You can read our response to the Government's consultation on parental internet controls here.

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Dear Mrs Perry, 

I hope this finds you well. I am writing with regard to the Westminster Hall debate you took part in yesterday. The debate focused on the responsibilities of internet companies. 
 
We note from the transcript of the debate that you said the following:
"As a result, the proportion of parents who say they have downloaded internet controls or filtering software in households with a child aged between five and 15—remember that 95% of children live in internet-enabled households—has fallen 10 percentage points over the past three years to 39%"
We are interested in the source for this statistic. Further, we would appreciate clarification on whether this statistic implies a reduction in the number of parents who downloaded filtering software or internet controls over the course of a year, or a fall in the percentage of all households that have filtering software or internet controls installed? In short, is that figure a drop in coverage, or in uptake? 
 
As a contribution to the debate, we note that the October 2012 publication from the EU Kids Online project, led by Professor Sonia Livingstone, found that: 
"54% of parents say that they block or filter websites at home or and 46% track the websites visited by their children. These findings are far higher than in Europe generally, with the UK topping the country ranking for use of filters."
The report draws on the project researchers' pan-European survey of 25,142 children aged 9-16. The researchers also found that: 
"The UK is near the top of ranking of countries in terms of parents actively mediating their children’s safety." (see page 70)
This report is available here: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/EUKidsOnline/EU%20Kids%20III/Reports/PerspectivesReport.pdf 
 
These findings appear to give a somewhat different picture to the one you presented in the debate yesterday. 
 
Whilst of course respecting your position, we disagree with you on the question of whether a 'default-on network filter' policy is the best way to help parents manage the risks their children face online. 
 
We wish to see this debate guided by robust evidence. This will ensure that we all understand the nature of the problem as clearly as possible, which will help us all draw more informed conclusions about the best response. 
 
We would therefore appreciate your help clarifying this.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
Peter Bradwell
Open Rights Group

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Comments (1)

  1. Frankie Fisher:
    Nov 02, 2012 at 02:18 PM

    A drop in filtering could indicate that parents are becoming less concerned about the supposed dangers of the internet.



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