Is web porn really on the increase?


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More than a third of web pages contain pornography according to a new study. But there are some serious questions about the motivation and methodology of the study.

The figures come from Optenet, a company which provides internet security products including one designed specifically for filtering unsuitable websites on family computers.

The headline figure is that 37% of websites studied were pornographic. That came from “a representative sample of approximately four million extracted URLs.” Of course, while the sample itself may be representative, it’s not clear how those four million URLs were chosen in the first place.

The rest of the figures are less clear as they work in a different way. Rather than a breakdown of the proportion of sites in each category, the company lists how much growth there has been in each compared with a similar study last year:

Online role-playing games +212%
Violence +10.8%
Online shopping +9%
Terrorism content +8.5%
Illegal drugs purchase +6.8%
Travel & tourism +5.7%
Computer science and sports +4.2%
Entertainment +3.6%

As the company has only listed categories which have grown, and nothing that has fallen, it certainly appear these increases aren’t in the proportion of sites in each category, but rather in the raw number of sites (presumably by extrapolating the sample to cover the entire web). If so, these figures don’t mean much without knowing how much of it is simply down to the web growing as a whole.

There’s also some questionable attitudes: the company also gives a 17% rise for a category detailed as ” adult content on the Internet as well as illegal content such as child pornography and illegal drug purchase”. Now while it’s understandable that parents thinking of filtering such sites would want all of these blocked, there’s a big legal difference between adult and child porn online. It’s also curious that illegal drug purchase is considered part of “adult content” but violence isn’t.

The validity of the study also depends on how stringently or loosely each page was categorized: does “illegal drugs purchase” mean the site offered the drugs for sale to the visitor, or does it also include fictional depictions. If it’s the latter, then a page recapping an episode of 24 probably ticks most of the categories.





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