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Government crackdown on web standards

Minister proposes film-style ratings for websites

In an effort to protect children from ‘harmful and offensive material’ the UK government is looking at adding cinema-style age ratings to websites.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham told the Daily Telegraph the government was looking at a number of possible new internet safeguards.

Burnham believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites, according to the newspaper.

Burnham describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Burnham replied: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.

“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it,” he added.

“I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online,” he said. “More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?”

“The internet has been empowering and democratising in many ways but we haven’t yet got the stakes in the ground to help people navigate their way safely around… what can be a very, very complex and quite dangerous world.”

Mr Burnham also wants new industry-wide “take down times”. This means that if websites such as YouTube or Facebook are alerted to offensive or harmful content they will have to remove it within a specified time once it is brought to their attention.

The Ministry of Justice is also considering changing libel laws to give people access to cheap low-cost legal recourse if they are defamed online.


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