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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
April 11, 2008
(202) 289-8928
Mandatory Controls Could Leave Kids Worse Off
Thierer Endorses Educational Campaigns, Not Restrictive Defaults for Devices

WASHINGTON D.C. - Government regulation mandating restrictive parental control defaults for media devices would likely have unintended consequences and would not achieve the goal of better protecting children from objectionable content, explains Adam Thierer in "The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults." In the Progress on Point released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation, the author warns of unintended incentives for industry to stop investing in parental controls and of creating a false sense of security for consumers. Instead, Thierer explains that increased educational efforts would be more effective in helping parents control their child's media consumption.

In his paper, Thierer, PFF Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom, examines why restrictive defaults on parental control tools are not already widely in place in the market. He proposes that there may not be a large demand for such restrictive tools because many parents already monitor their child's media consumption through household rules or self-monitoring. Thierer also explains that the majority of U.S. households contain no children under the age of eighteen and therefore would have no interest in parental control tools.

In light of the evidence that most consumers would not opt for default parental controls, Thierer predicts reaction from consumers would be less than favorable. "And when consumers are unhappy about a service feature--but companies are not permitted to address that unhappiness by turning off the higher settings--a likely result could be for companies to weaken or even not offer parental controls altogether," he explains. Mandated defaults could also either cause consumers to either purchase devices from outside the country, where such regulations would not be enforceable, or discourage them from purchasing new devices that could contain superior parental control tools.

Thierer also predicts that mandating restrictive defaults for parental controls could cause industry to suspend use of their voluntary rating systems altogether. "After all, it is important to remember that the ratings and controls that government is seeking to regulate here are voluntary and private; there is no reason they couldn't be abandoned tomorrow," he explains. Thierer also cites constitutional concerns if government used these voluntary ratings systems as a basis for law or legal liability.

Thierer warns that instead of giving parents more control over their child's media consumption, mandated controls could actually cause parents to become less involved. "One of the most unfortunate consequences of such a mandate would be that it might lull some parents into a false sense of security. If parents came to believe that because a filter was installed they need do nothing more to help their children go online safely, or become engaged in their media choices, that would be an extremely troubling outcome."

Thierer concludes that instead of government preemptively deciding for all households how to use parental control tools, they can encourage the adoption of such tools through consumer education efforts. "Policymakers should tap these more constructive, constitutional solutions," asserts Thierer.

"The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults," is available on the PFF website. Thierer also recently released Version 3 of his book Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation