Almost every big Android porn-blocking app mistakenly censors sex-ed and LGBT+ content

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android sex ed

The most popular Android porn-blocking parental control apps routinely mistakenly block US and UK government-approved sexual health and LGBT+ websites, according to new research.

A virtual private network (VPN) company tested 12 of the most popular site-blocking parental control apps on the Google Play Store. It found that all but one of the 12 apps blocked at least one of the 19 sexual health or LGBTQ+ information sites they were tested on.

It found that this ‘overblocking’ took place 28 percent of the time: 64 out of the 228 occasions that the 12 apps were tested against the 19 sex and sexuality information sites.

While the apps may be generally effective in blocking much porn content, the findings have raised concerns that young people may be facing online barriers when trying to access health and wellbeing material.

The site-blocker apps tested were: Kids Place, FamilyTime, FamiSafe, Kaspersky SafeKids, McAfee Safe Family, MMGuardian, Norton Family, Screen Time, ESET Parental Control, Kidslox, Microsoft Family Safety and Qustodio.

“We believe that decisions to censor internet content or intrude on individuals’ digital privacy should never be taken lightly”

Top10vpn.com report

Six of the 12 site-blockers blocked Sex, etc.: a US sexual health website providing information for teenagers. Six blocked the website of the UK-based Sex Education Forum, which facilitates sex education. Four of the sites blocked Every Body Curious, a video-based sex education service aimed at nine to 12 year-olds and their parents.

Three of the site-blocker apps allowed access to OnlyFans, which features reams of sexually explicit content made by adult creators. Five allowed access to Tinder, which users need to be aged 18 or over to use.

The overblocking incidents may often be down to clunky artificial intelligence (AI) systems failing to differentiate between titillatingly explicit sexual content and educational sex-related material, but it may have repercussions for young people’s future attitudes towards the internet.

“We believe that decisions to censor internet content or intrude on individuals’ digital privacy should never be taken lightly and need very careful consideration in possession of all the facts.

This is particularly true when it comes to keeping children safe online. Surveying and strictly controlling children’s internet activity using technology normalizes such behavior and does little to prepare them for responsible internet use as adults,” the site’s analysis reads.

Ultimately, the full report gives parents the info they need about how effective, or indeed ineffective, many parental control apps are, and makes clear the unintended side-effects of overzealous blocking. An explicit content blocker might seem like a straightforward way to control internet access, but it’s never a replacement for active parenting and hands-on approaches to online safety.

Read Next: Facebook accused of ‘sexist undertones’ after banning sexual wellness ads

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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