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The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults

Adam D. Thierer

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Progress & Freedom Foundation Progress on Point Paper, No. 15.4

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, whereas increased consumer education efforts would be more effective in helping parents control their child's media consumption.

Restrictive defaults on parental control tools are not already widely in place in the market since there may not be a large demand for such restrictive tools where many parents already monitor their child's media consumption through household rules or self-monitoring.

Sill, in light of evidence that most consumers would not opt for default parental controls, the reaction from consumers would be predictably 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. Mandated defaults could also discourage consumers from purchasing new devices that could contain superior parental control tools.

Mandating restrictive defaults 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. For the government to use these voluntary ratings systems as a basis for law or legal liability also raises constitutional concerns.

Finally, mandated controls could actually cause parents to become less involved in their child's media consumption and 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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 9

Keywords: Parental Control defaults, parental controls, online child protection, child protection, media, media regulation, mandatory controls, restrictive defaults, unconstitutional, voluntary ratings, regulation, online safety, child safety, online predators, internet safety

JEL Classification: D1, D18, I2, I20, K2, K23,O38, O33, L82

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Date posted: April 16, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults. Progress & Freedom Foundation Progress on Point Paper, No. 15.4 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1120324 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1120324

Contact Information

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)
George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )
3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States
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