Pornography most popular subject for Internet searches Internet becomes a haunt of the dirty-mac brigade

BRITISH ASSOCIATION; 'Much of it makes adult shops in Soho look tame' Nearly half the most repeated searches are for pornography
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Pornographic "sites" on the Internet are by far the most popular visiting places in cyberspace, according to an analysis of thousands of computer searches around the world. Nearly half of the most repeated searches on the worldwide network of computers were for pornography, Harold Thimbleby, Professor of Computing Research at Middlesex University, told the British Association meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne.

"A surprisingly high proportion of searches ... are for such material. The numbers are not as important as the ease with which you can find it. My nine-year-old son, if he wanted to, could find this material," Professor Thimbleby said.

"The Internet has been called a global electronic village. If so, most of it is a heavily used red-light district. Too few people are providing any other interesting or useful services on the Internet."

Although some people see the Internet as providing an information-rich Utopia, the reality is quite different, he said. "The Internet brings pornography and computer viruses; it tells you how to take drugs and make bombs. These things aren't necessarily what you want in Utopia."

Professor Thimbleby said there was a plethora of hard-core pornography which was easily available through the Internet. "Much of it makes adult shops in London's Soho look very tame indeed. Material includes high-quality graphics, instructions, stories, sounds, movies, shop catalogues ... for both conventional sexual interests as well as all variations."

In his research he found "very disturbing" material, such as instructions for killing children. "Overtly sexual pornography is not the only problem. The Internet has information on every activity that Amnesty International and, I believe, all sensible humans, would wish to eliminate from the planet."

Professsor Thimbleby found that one in 10 shops using the Internet sold erotica and 10 per cent of computer bulletin- boards were pornographic. "Of an analysis of searches made with a Web 'search engine' [which looks for key words] by people all around the world, 47 per cent of the 11,000 most-repeated searches were pornographic. Like everything else, this is a subjective estimate because, for example, I counted searches for 'hardcore' but I did not count searches for 'gay' or 'lesbian'."

Professor Thimbleby said there was no reliable way, "technical or otherwise", to detect or intercept pornography.

Pornographers were already using uncrackable encryption techniques to make material inaccessible to people who did not have the right keys to break the encoded information.

If more material of a more edifying nature were made available, then pornography on the Internet might take a fringe role rather than being a mainstream activity, he said. "The Internet has very little interesting material; it needs more. When it has more, it is just possible that pornography will slip into its statistically appropriate place, one aspect of humanity, but not the most prominent on the Internet."

Schools are interested in getting on to the Internet for all the good things if offers, he said. "But they need to be made aware that it is not just good things."