UK ISPs Are Already Planning To Offer Porn Filters -- So Who Needs New Legislation?

from the isn't-this-how-it's-supposed-to-work? dept

Last week Techdirt wrote about the possible introduction of an "opt-in" license to view porn online in the UK. As we noted then, there is nothing to stop parents from installing their own filters to block access to certain kinds of Web sites now. But it seems that soon, they won't even have to do that:

There’s a report in today’s Sunday Times that ISP TalkTalk is planning to offer an "adult" filter to all its customers. The "HomeSafe" system will, according to the report, block websites that are considered unsuitable for the under-18s. That isn’t just porn, but also includes self-harm, drugs and violence. Other major consumer ISPs, such as BT, are working on their own systems but don’t have them ready yet.
This is precisely how the market is supposed to work: if there is demand for something that is not currently on offer, then businesses will develop new products to meet that demand.
What’s interesting about today’s report, though, is that a spokesman from TalkTalk is quoted as saying that offering filters to new customers has increased customer retention. It seems that their customers do want them, and are more likely to stay with TalkTalk if they’ve got them.
That means that rather than incurring costs for imposing censorship on everyone unless they opt out, as the UK government may require, ISPs could instead make money through reduced churn by giving customers something they want.

As the author of the article quoted above, Mark Goodge, points out:

It also gives the lie to two other common claims made by pro-compulsion campaigners: that ISPs are irresponsible and parents don’t care, and the only solution to both of those is legislation. In reality, a lot of parents do care about what their children are accessing on the Internet, and will choose to use a system which does screen out the worst of it if that option is available. And ISPs are responsive to consumer demand, so they’re choosing to offer that to their customers.
It's particularly ironic that it should be the UK's Conservative Party that is contemplating this move. It generally prides itself on promoting business and minimizing government interference in people's lives; here, it is doing the exact opposite.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Tor (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 3:41am

    Slippery slope

    I'm a bit divided. I'm all for the free market, but the more volontary filtering there is the easier it will be for courts and politicians in the longer run to argue for the introduction of mandatory filters for other things than porn - pointing to the existing filtering solutions as examples of how this can be done at a relatively low cost and that it's already accepted and widely used.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 3:50am

    The UK is fast becoming a nanny state, not just in regards to the Internet but also when it comes to nutrition. The government won't be happy until everyone is eating, drinking, watching what they want us to.

    Moving to Syria is almost a better option.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:03am

    I believe legislation is needed if only to govern non-compliance among pornography providers. Filters are great things but largely useless if some companies choose to find ways to get around them and in doing so, face a consequence-free environment.

    The argument of 'legislation or no legislation' is a bit too black-and-white for something which needs thought out and specific attention particularly where the protection of children is involved.

    Is Britain a Nanny State? Yes, in many ways - but in this particularly circumstance, what is required is leadership from our law-makers to ensure that pornography is made available ONLY to those to which is intended within the spirit and letter of the law.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Protect us from the Conservative Party, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:14am

    Protect us from terrorism.... spy on us.
    Protect us from more terrorism.... start wars.
    Protect us from offense.... jail twitter users posting offensive tweets.
    Protect us from porn.... censor us.

    ANY EXCUSE to get the POWER TO CENSOR

     

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  5.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 4:21am

    Re:

    "I believe legislation is needed if only to govern non-compliance among pornography providers."

    Why? If people want them, why would they not choose an ISP that gives them what they want? If ISP X says "we filter porn" and ISP Y says "we don't filter", why should the government intervene to force customers of ISP Y to be filtered?

    "Filters are great things but largely useless if some companies choose to find ways to get around them and in doing so, face a consequence-free environment."

    Why do you think that private companies should be forced to impose your personal morality? Why should they be forced to block content that's otherwise perfectly legal (don't give me the "for the children" crap here)?

    "Is Britain a Nanny State?"

    Not anywhere near as much as the Daily Mail and other right-wing propaganda outlets would have you believe. But, I wonder - if that's what you're worried about, why do you support going even further down that road?

    "ensure that pornography is made available ONLY to those to which is intended"

    This is impossible, sorry. Legislation won't change human nature, nor can it be used to force parents to actually give a crap about parenting.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Megrez, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:21am

    Wouldn't it be easier to liberalise our attitudes towards our bodies and improve sex education, thereby solving all of our problems at once, rather than wasting taxpayer time and money legislating against dirty mags, internet porn, adult content on tv etc. etc. ?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:29am

    can always rely on politicians to say one thing, then do the other. the Conservative Party seem to thrive on that but then say they dont understand when the public kicks them and their policies out! the proposed government system would mean people 'opting in' to be able to watch on-line porn. you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone that did that would be on a police list. then, as soon as some 'sex related crime' occurred, the first ones to be accused would be those on that list.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:29am

    Re:

    Making food producers clearly state the nutritional content of their product is hardly tyranny.
    The people benefit from that directly. ( information = greater informed decision )

    Not "nanny state" ... more like "controlling state".
    Not for the peoples best interests , but for corporations and the governments best interests.



    We never chose these politicians.
    They chose themselves and asked us to vote for them. (big difference)

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:31am

    Re:

    And how would your solution give the government power to censor ?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    abc gum, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:33am

    "The "HomeSafe" system will, according to the report, block websites that are considered unsuitable for the under-18s. That isnít just porn, but also includes self-harm, drugs and violence"

    I'm quite positive that other sites found to be objectionable will be added to the list, such as sites which promote opposing political views, provide detailed coverage of cover-ups, you get the idea.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:35am

    Except that the techology doesn't work

    Web filters -- whether to block porn, block malware, block anything -- don't work.

    I mean that in two senses: first, they're easily evaded. But even if we exclude that and presume for the sake of argument that users aren't making any attempt at evading them, they still don't work.

    The problem is one of scale and of malleability. In terms of scale, even enumerating all web sites is a difficult problem, doubly so given that the number of these is much greater than the number of domains, mirroring/caching are frequently used, and hosts change constantly. In terms of mal

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    izzitme101, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:38am

    Our current dictator over here is no different to the last two.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:39am

    "This is impossible, sorry. Legislation won't change human nature, nor can it be used to force parents to actually give a crap about parenting."

    I agree - but legislation can at least ensure that a proper framework is put in place to ensure that access to pornography is deliberate and is not something that can be found 'lying on the street.' This isn't about interference - it's about ensuring reasonable measures are taken to control pornographic content. Just because 13-year-old boys are 'horny' is no excuse to warrant a lack of governance.

    We have laws in place to ensure minors cannot purchase these materials in a shop. Why should we not have them to ensure that providers are at least working within guidelines i.e. the .xxx domain which is easy for parents to enforce with software.

    I'm not talking about actively blocking content - I'm talking about ensuring all companies cooperate so that their content CAN be blocked if desired by us parents.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:41am

    Except that the techology doesn't work

    Web filters -- whether to block porn, block malware, block anything -- don't work.

    I mean that in two senses: first, they're easily evaded. But even if we exclude that and presume for the sake of argument that users aren't making any attempt at evading them, they still don't work.

    The problem is one of scale and of malleability. In terms of scale, even enumerating all web sites is a difficult problem, doubly so given that the number of these is much greater than the number of domains, mirroring/caching are frequently used, and hosts change constantly. In terms of malleability, there's no way to know a priori that example.net, which today features pictures of kittens and bunnies, will tomorrow be a hardcore BDSM site -- or vice versa. There's no way to know that example.com will be hosting 621 more blogs of varying content tomorrow, each with its own subdomain. There's no way to know that example.org will be hijacked/hacked/defaced along with 30 other sites and its content replaced with something NSFW and a side order of drive-by downloaded malware custom-crafted to avoid detection by contemporary anti-malware products.

    Proponents of filtering like to marginalize these as edge cases, but that's disingenuous; they're the norm. The web (as a whole) is not a collection of static objects that can be inventoried and classified: it's changing continuously and on a massive scale.

    The only "filter" that has a chance of working as intended is one that we've had available for quite some time. It's called "a parent".

    EDIT: submitting again, first time apparently hiccuped.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:44am

    UK censorship has not only started but is now on the downwards slippery slope. soon, anyone will be able to get anything blocked because it goes against certain their beliefs. this has all come about because of the entertainment industries. what a legacy they are going to leave on history. 'the best communication tool ever invented on this planet was completely destroyed and we, the entertainment industries, through pure and simple self-interest and decades of failing to adapt to and utilize that tool, finally did it!! yeah!!

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 4:53am

    It's particularly ironic that it should be the UK's Conservative Party that is contemplating this move. It generally prides itself on promoting business and minimizing government interference in people's lives; here, it is doing the exact opposite.


    Conservative Parties in general seem to hate one thing more than government interference in business (unless it's government interference in favor of business), and that is sex. Well, sex that other people are enjoying, anyway.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Alioth, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:02am

    "Well, sex that other people are enjoying, anyway."

    In terms of overall enjoyment, sex is the poor person's Ferrari.

     

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  18.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:07am

    Re:

    "I agree - but legislation can at least ensure that a proper framework is put in place to ensure that access to pornography is deliberate and is not something that can be found 'lying on the street.'"

    No it won't. Anybody can access porn and other adult material if they want, with or without the internet. I fail to see why the lives of adults should be interfered with because some parents aren't intelligent enough to moderate their own equipment in their own home. A voluntary agreement with an ISP should ensure that such children are protected if their parents demand it. It should not be forced onto adults, by government or anybody else.

    "We have laws in place to ensure minors cannot purchase these materials in a shop"

    Yet, I remember being that age decades ago, and still able to obtain such material at the time. Those laws couldn't stop me from being get hold of a German hardcore VHS my mate got from his older brother in the late 80s when all hardcore porn was banned outright, why will this suddenly be more effective?

    "Why should we not have them to ensure that providers are at least working within guidelines i.e. the .xxx domain which is easy for parents to enforce with software."

    Because it won't work. None of these solutions - ESPECIALLY not the .xxx rubbish - will actually be effective.

    "I'm not talking about actively blocking content - I'm talking about ensuring all companies cooperate so that their content CAN be blocked if desired by us parents."

    Then why are you complaining? The article above describes such a solution that's being put into place by ISPs and will be offered to you - and that's even above and beyond the filtering solutions already available to you outside of the ISPs. Software has been available for your PC since at least the mid-90s - if it's that important to you, why haven't you installed it? If an ISP doesn't offer such a solution, don't use them, or request that they do. Nobody should be forcing it on them.

    As the article mentions - this is how the free market should work. If your ISP doesn't offer the services you require, don't start whining to the government to force them to offer it, move to one that does. If none do, use the existing solutions already available to you.

     

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  19.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:08am

    Re:

    Same as the GOP in the USA.Same old story and we have to live it daily from the asshole assaults by the GOP.They are now trying to forcefeed the whole Nation their Christian Religion even if you are not a believer of God.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    drew (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:13am

    Re: Re:

    but but but won't somebody think of the children?

     

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  21.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:16am

    Re: Re:

    Not to mention that they (GOP) seem to think that anything that's not Catholic is not mainstream.

     

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  22.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:22am

    Re: Re:

    Join the church of the flying spaghetti monster, then at least you can have fun getting those that preach to you in person to have fits when you 'preach' right back.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:29am

    Re: Except that the techology doesn't work

    Filters being easily evaded is only a problem if you're trying to stop someone from seeing something that they're intentionally seeking -- in other words, if you're trying to censor someone's access to information.

    And that's a feature, not a bug.

    Filters can be useful for stopping someone accidentally running across something they're not

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:30am

    Re: Except that the techology doesn't work

    Filters being easily evaded is only a problem if you're trying to stop someone from seeing something that they're intentionally seeking -- in other words, if you're trying to censor someone's access to information.

    And that's a feature, not a bug.

    Filters can be useful for stopping someone accidentally running across something they're not intentionally seeking. If you are offended by, and don't want to see, pr0n, filtering can be useful to reduce the frequency with which you stumble onto some anyway. And unless your kids are actively seeking out pr0n (in which case either they have bigger problems or you do -- they if it's precocious, you if you think stopping your teenaged kids from finding it when they seek it out is at all useful or beneficial to anybody) it can reduce the likelihood they'll stumble onto some accidentally.

     

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  25.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:31am

    It's worth repeating:

    It also gives the lie to two other common claims made by pro-compulsion campaigners: that ISPs are irresponsible and parents donít care, and the only solution to both of those is legislation. In reality, a lot of parents do care about what their children are accessing on the Internet, and will choose to use a system which does screen out the worst of it if that option is available. And ISPs are responsive to consumer demand, so theyíre choosing to offer that to their customers.

    That repeated (and we should repeat sane, reasonable things to exhaustion), I do have concerns over said filters being used as censorship tools. Also, how can I know similar filters won't be slipped under the hood without our knowledge? And if it's a DNS filter, how long till the children we are protecting will find Google Public DNS and change the system config?

    Good initiative but it doesn't replace the parents.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    when talking about porn, I think it's safe to say, very few people want anyone to be thinking about children

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:00am

    Both Britian and America are messed up. But at least our President dances and sings and calls Kanye West a jackass. Cameron is so a god damn irritating pooftah.

     

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  28.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 6:05am

    Re:

    Wouldn't it be easier to liberalise our attitudes towards our bodies and improve sex education,

    But that flies in the face of 6000 years of the dominant organized religions. We all know that the beliefs of bronze age people are much more important than anything we could possibly think of today.

    /s

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:05am

    Re: Re:

    I agree with most of what you say,
    but then you say
    "this is how the free market should work"

    There are times when how a market would/should work doesn't matter. If a free market created the hunting of orphaned children for sport, I think a great many people would say screw the free market, that's too much.

    That a free market might generate a censored or uncensored internet is neither here nor there. What matters is, for those who want to protect children from things that are at least generally agreed to be unsuitable for children, what would be the most effective way of doing so.
    Opt out ISP based filtering is not an effective way and it is incredibly intrusive and irksome for everyone else, for all the reasons you previously correctly enumerated, and as you say anyone who thinks they can prevent young teenage boys from getting hold of porn is deluding themselves.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:07am

    Re:

    Are you using 'pooftah' in the non homophobic sense and if so, what is that sense?

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:32am

    Despite conservatives claim that they want to minimize government they actually don't when it comes to social and moral issues, which this is more then an economic one.

     

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  32.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 6:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "If a free market created the hunting of orphaned children for sport, I think a great many people would say screw the free market, that's too much."

    Well, that's a rather silly analogy (although replace "free market" with "government" and you have a couple of recently popular views of a dystopian future). Of course, an unfettered free market can be a very bad thing and some government regulation has its place. That place isn't being in charge of access to free speech, nor is it trying to enforce solutions the market is already adapting on its own.

    There's nothing wrong with government intervention when a free market solution is ineffective or impossible in dealing with real threats. This doesn't fit the bill.

    "That a free market might generate a censored or uncensored internet is neither here nor there. "

    No, it's exactly the point. A free market would allow me to move ISP as and when I wished, to a completely unfiltered internet if I wished. A free market could make filters a defacto standard if the market moved that way, but there would still be room for unfiltered services, even if they were niche and/or more expensive. The government stepping in removes that choice, and also opens avenues for future censorship (e.g. who decides which material is "generally agreed to be unsuitable"? What safeguards are in place to prevent false positives? etc.)

    "What matters is, for those who want to protect children from things that are at least generally agreed to be unsuitable for children, what would be the most effective way of doing so."

    They're called parents, and this is unfortunately something that's impossible to regulate. They can, however, be offered tools and facilities to make their lives easier, but since the market is already providing these both at the PC and ISP level, why does the government need to start messing around? "Some parents can't be bothered to do their job or are too stupid to own a computer" isn't really a good excuse.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 7:09am

    WOW! Anyone under 18 is going to be screwed since 98% of the internet is at least rated R

    Bye bye facebook! Don't wanna ruin them by seeing a few F bombs in the comments. "Fuck" oh shit they can't come here either my bad lol.

     

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  34.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    We did. It's caled .xxx

     

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  35.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 7:15am

    Re:

    The ruling coalition in the UK is made up oif yes-men and cronies. They keep taxing the poor, when the lowliest of them is a millionaire.

    If you gave, for example, David Cameron basic welfare to live on for a month, he'd ahve blown it on the shrimp.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    Re:

    On the whole under 18 year olds look for porn because they aren't getting screwed, if they were, they wouldn't need to.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it can be a nice extra for adults but for the average young teenage male, some kind of porn is the closest they get to actual sexual experience for many years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I reject this due to my belief in Last Thursdayism. I am THE Last Thursdayist and anything else you say will be summarily rejected.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re: Except that the techology doesn't work

    "unless your kids are actively seeking out pr0n"

    and if they're teenage boys, they will be and that is normal not a sign of either them or their parents having problems.

    I have to say, I rarely if ever accidentally stumble across porn not since google changed the state of play for search engines.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    Overcast (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 8:00am

    On TV channels too - or just the web?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    vastrightwing, May 15th, 2012 @ 8:16am

    Red herring

    Only one commenter got close to the truth. This has nothing to do with children or porn. It has everything to do with being able to control information. Once these controls are in place it will be easy to shut off the internet when desired. The excuse is a thin veil to put the mechanism in place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    quawonk, May 15th, 2012 @ 9:12am

    So, either:

    1. Government-imposed morality, unless one opts out (and in so doing probably adds themselves to some special watch list).

    2. Parents who want to shelter their precious little angels from reality so they grow up repressed and ignorant can get a filtering service.

    3. Everyone grows up and gets over this ridiculous fear of our own bodies.

    I'd go with 3. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like an option that will happen any time soon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re:

    A shrimp

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    Re:

    The UK is NOT a nanny state, it's a deranged Aunt state.

    Get it right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 10:40am

    Re:

    No, he's just less effective at hiding his upper-class twittery.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    No, I can get a pack of shrimp for only £25.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re:

    They wouldn't need to. But, being British, we have this stiff upper lip, amongst other things...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 12:36pm

    Re:

    Eh, who needs parenting when you have THE DAILY MAIL?

    /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Paul Keating, May 16th, 2012 @ 4:00am

    UK ISPs already FILTER

    This is NON-NEWS.

    Most ISPs already have filters that are automatically applied. You have to call them to opt out (making you feel like a smut-lord).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    fire, May 16th, 2012 @ 4:18am

    censorship

    This literally discusts me next chance i get am gonna leave talktalk

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You obviously haven't seen how inane governments can price the most simple items. Hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on $5-10 tools as an example.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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