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.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.