The internet wouldn’t exist without porn

Symbiotic smut.

“The internet is for porn”, as the cheeky Avenue Q song reminds us. And the statistics back that up - around 30 per cent of worldwide internet traffic is porn, and 12 per cent of all websites are dedicated to the dissemination of smut.

There’s a good reason for that – it makes a lot of money. Lobbyists campaigning to ban or restrict access to internet pornography need to be aware it has a symbiotic relationship with the technology itself, funding its very existence.

It is natural human instinct to turn every newly available medium to the sharing of the lewd. You can bet it didn’t take long for cave painting to evolve from hand prints and woolly mammoth hunts to unnaturally priapic self-portraits.

In a former life as an IT consultant, I worked for a number of telecoms giants whose shiny new networks and successive generations of mobile services were partly funded by sex lines, often run out of unlikely locations like Peru. One mobile services company boosted the profits of its promotional SMS business with TV dial-a-babe offerings. 

But the internet has made pornography available on a whole new scale without hard to explain telephone bills or visits to out-of-town newsagents. I completed my IT degree the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and overnight bedroom-bound lads evolved from play-by-email Dungeons and Dragons to the painfully slow line-by-line downloading of pictures of naked ladies over shonky modems (“What’s that…? Eww!”).

Despite the claims by certain public figures, internet pornography doesn’t arrive on our screens unbidden. Even Googling “internet pornography” for this article didn’t offer me anything the least bit titillating on the first page of results.

That’s not to say it’s hard to get hold of online pornography if that’s what you’re looking for, far from it in fact, and internet giants are coming under increased pressure to make it harder for children to access it.

Part of the answer is to use automated internet parental controls. According to web security specialists Kapersky 23 per cent of blocked searches in the UK over the first five months of 2013 were for porn. But parents need to be educated that these sorts of content filters must be used alongside parental supervision and education for full effect.

But more widely, if we make legal pornography harder to access by consenting adults, will we hamper the march of innovation? It’s a little aired dirty secret of the telecom and internet giants that the recession-proof profits of pornography are what fund the evolution of technology.  

Diane Abbott, Labour MP and shadow minister for public health, says: "Porn is the biggest driver of traffic to Google. You cannot allow the industry to drive the pace of change. So much money is riding on what happens."

While kicking internet companies in the bank balance will get their attention as far as illegal content and access by minors is concerned, a wider clampdown on internet pornography may just hamper the arrival of the next internet. Bring on the smut.

Photograph: Getty Images

Berenice Baker is Defence Editor at Strategic Defence Intelligence.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.