Hosting progress given ethical pause

Todays main job was to set up an hosting account with Zen Internet and start the process of porting the regional Mothers’ Union website I want to re-write to them. The idea is then to re-write using a format similar to the one here.

Then BBC News at 8am briefly touched on this item seeming to suggest that Zen were refusing to block child porn sites. I started asking myself about the ethics of proceeding with my plan: Mothers’ Union is a Christian charity supporting family life worldwide; should we as a regional group use a host who appears to condone the activities of pornographers (of any sort but especially regarding kids)?

Breakfasted I was delighted to find Alec had noted the relevant news item on Facebook for me (thanks), so I briefly commented and then read it.  I then had an interesting conversation with a friend which pointed out several things:

It appears that Zen are very concerned about the way the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) behave by just blocking the websites but not appearing to act. Zen are much more pro the european system that can’t now be acted on in Britain because it gets sent straight back to the IWF.

In the European system apparently works such that if you report a site you get indemnity for reporting it – something that the IWF don’t guarantee. Then they block it but also make best efforts to investigate it.

IWF have also gone slightly ott recently by blocking not just an image but the whole text on wikipedia entry:

There are several issues here firstly related to being a regional Charity Trustee for a Christian charity:

  • I need to use a host whose ethical policy reflects the charity’s aims, i.e. to promote family life;
  • we also need to use a host who offers the facility we want to use at a price that the charity sees as being reasonable relate to the market place of other hosts (so we won’t be staying with Claranet whatever happens);
  • we also need to improve our web presence as fast as possible and dramatically and I have Trustees Standing Committee approval to proceed with Zen as host.

However there are other considerations:

  • Zen Internet are being talked about as ‘happy’ to allow their customers to access these images using very emotive language, which does not appear to reflect the real reason why Zen are not signed up to the IWF code of practice;
  • Why have Zen and any other firms facing the same issues, not got the freedom to apply the European system if they think it is better?
  • If Zen were really against the hosting of such (lucrative?) sites could they not simply make a business decision not to do so, making themselves more attractive to prospective users who do not wish to be associated (even vaguely) with such behaviour?

There is probably more to it than even this, but this is as far as my brain has got right now. I suspect I won’t take any further action for 24 hours on this, especially since family comes first and my son is on an INSET day today.

I also await further comment from you!



  1. Ummm… there are a few bugs n your thinking:

    1) Zen are not hosting child porn sites. What the kerfuffle is about is whether or not Zen subscribes to the IWF’s blacklist of sites to censor from the UK – a blacklist without judicial oversight or public scrutiny.

    2) The question comes down to “Should Zen (or any ISP in particular) knuckle-under and censor the access to the Internet which their customers purchase.

    3) Would you have ever thought about this if the newspapers had not covered it this morning? I don’t recall the MU having a “ethical buying” policy, and then of course you have do decide whether an ISP which does not simply allow itself to be co-opted into non-accountable censorship practices, whether that ISP is MORE ETHICAL or LESS ETHICAL than (say) Demon or BT. Who knows what else the latter will censor in the future?

    4) The IWF and CHIS (also known as CCCIS) are respectively a QUANGO and a single issue pressure group with a small staff, both dedicated to the laudable goal of reducing child abuse but both going about it by insisting the entire populace of the UK needs to be watched, controlled, filtered and monitored in order to achieve this goal.

    So if you want to talk ethics, decide for yourself at what cost you are willing to accept surveillance, filtering and monitoring of everything you do?


  2. I had not intended to suggest that Zen were hosting dodgy sites, and apologise if I gave that impression.

    However in response to alecm’s comment, then the answer is yes, I had thought in general terms about the ethics of which host I suggested we as Trustees use to host the local MU site in future. I have heard from yourself, and others, good things about Zen. These didn’t deal specifically with this issue; I had I suppose, made assumptions about things – but that was why I was startled by the news story into questioning, but not doing anything immediately.

    No, the MU doesn’t have a formal ethical buying policy, but the Charity Commission expect Trustees to relate our purchasing/operations to our aims and objectives – which given the aims and objectives of MU amount to the same thing. We all know how the media can make mud stick by association – and I wanted to be as sure as I could that this wouldn’t be the case, and that I could give a sensible response to any queries I may get at Trustees next month, should anyone have made the appropriate connections, or read this.

    I have been pointed by others to the following link
    and specifically the Comment 13, which collectively I found reassuring.

    In particular:

    – “most of this material is held abroad and the IWF is ineffective about getting it removed” makes me think therefore that using a small UK based ISP is actually safer than using large overseas alternatives.

    – “UK ISPs are very quick to remove such content should it be discovered” agrees with above.

    I have to say though, that yes, I think I would accept surveillance etc. of what I am doing on the internet, with regard to this issue. After all many of us accept such monitering of our lives (current and past) through the Criminal Records Bureau system (and whatever is superceding it) to allow us to ‘work with’ children. Some might regard all this as taking a step down a slippery slope, but if that offers protection to children, then so be it.

    I will therefore be contacting Zen Internet later in the week to host the MU site, and whatever steps they feel appropriate to take with users who deliberately or inadvertently show inappropriate images on their sites, I will trust that these will be rigorously implemented.


  3. Having talked to someone who works at Zen, the IWF and censoring has been thought about very hard at the company.

    The problem here is whether you think that the IWF actually have the moral high-ground at all. You may agree with the sentiment of protecting the innocent from trouble but not the methods used by individual groups.

    The problem with the IWF is that they are being posted as the one and only method of achieving the goal and that anyone who disagrees with their methods are obviously akin to child abusers themselves. This is, of course, spin and propaganda.

    As for the whole “think of the children” mantra and censorship in general, it could well be a slippery slope having seen what else this current government have tried to force through in terms of surveillance and restriction of personal freedoms. The amount of poorly thought through and dangerously ambiguous legislation which has been passed by this government is also concerning.


  4. just a technical aside: there’s quite a difference between the filters an ISP imposes upon its service customers – they who pay it for internet access – versus the way they treat hosting customers like the MU website.

    The former are “readership” who may or may not be subject to censorship; the latter are publishers.


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