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Sexually-explicit materials: How much of a problem?
A. Is There Sexually-Explicit Material On The Internet?
The following table shows, in the left-hand column, words and phrases
that were used as search terms in the search engines listed across the
top and the number of web site matches each engine found for each word
or phrase as of August, 1997. Note that some search engines found matches
in the millions. Note also that different search engines have different
methods for finding matches. In a case where the search is defined by
more than one word, for example "sex pictures," some search engines will
match a web site to the search if it has either word, while others will
only match sites that contain both words. Finally, be aware that a site
that matches, for example, a search on "pornography" is not necessarily
a sexually-explicit site. It could also be an informational site or a
site protesting sexually-explicit material.
*For most of these searches both MSN.com and ask.com referred
the user to Nightsurf.com, and adult search engine. The page that immediately
followed these searches contained two links: one link sent the user back
to MSN.com or Ask.com where non-pornographic search results were shown,
the other link sent the user to Nightsurf.com. In order to better understand
these numbers it should be noted that these words through Nightsurf's
search engine and the results listed above were all sites with explicit
material. Nightsurf.com is promoted as "Internet for adults, by adults",
but one does not have to provide any proof of age to use Nightsurf's search
B. How Does One Find Such Material?
1. Through Yahoo.
Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) is a search engine that internally categorizes topics and further divides its own categories into more specific categories until it reaches a point where it provides links to external web sites that match the specific topic. The following charts illustrate paths that can be taken through Yahoo to gain access to web sites with sexually-explicit contents. The words and phrases in quotes are the titles of Yahoo's internal categories.
Yahoo Search #1
2. Through Google
Google Search #1
Google Search #2
Tested on January 22, 2002
3. Direct URL Access
In addition to searching for sites with sexually-explicit contents through search engines, it is also possible to access adult sites directly by entering their web addresses, or URL's, into your web browser. This requires that you know the URL address. But because most URL's have similar forms, it is not hard to guess addresses correctly. In the following examples, we took sexually-oriented magazines popular enough so that their names are common knowledge and entered them in a web browser in URL form.
Simulated URL Trials
4. Common Words Leading To Sexually-Explicit Sites
The following common words were used as search words in search engines--mainly Altavista and Yahoo--and all came up with some links to sites with some form of sexually-explicit content, despite the fact that, on their faces, many of these words have nothing to do with sexually explicit material. This demonstrates that it is possible to find links to sexually-explicit web sites even though one may not be looking for them.
C. Aside From Filtering Software, What Prevents Access To Such Material?
Adult Verification Systems
Some web sites with sexually-explicit content go beyond merely providing a warning about the content of the site. These sites use adult verification systems. A person buys a username and password for the system by going to the adult verification system's web site and fill out a form. Once this system has verified that one is an adult, a username and password will be e-mailed to him or her.
Adult Check (www.adultcheck.com)
calls itself the "largest adult verification system." Adult
Check is used by about 2900 web sites. While this may be a large
number of sites, it is still only a small fraction of the total number
of adult web sites. Adult Check requires the following information
in its application:
The system has two drawbacks. First, many people are reluctant to give out the personal information required on the application despite Adult Check's claim that all information given to them is confidential and will not be distributed. Perhaps some fear that Adult Check could change its policy on the distribution of personal information the way America Online did. Secondly, Adult Check is not free and many people refuse to pay for such a service. A third, perhaps less obvious, drawback involves the secrecy of Adult Check passwords. One of the terms of agreement in the application is that you will not disclose your Adult Check I.D. to anyone. It is not clear, though, that Adult Check has the means to enforce this rule. People can easily give their usernames and passwords to friends.
Even more problematic is people posting adult verification passwords on web sites. A search in Altavista for "adult passwords" revealed many web site matches. One link followed revealed a site with usernames and passwords posted for the adult verification systems Adult Sights and Adult Pass. This site also contained an option of sending your e-mail address in and having a username and password that will work on Adult Check e-mailed to you. A note said that Adult Check changes so often that e-mailing the usernames and passwords is more efficient than posting them. In addition to usernames and passwords for adult verification systems, this site also had usernames and passwords for web sites with sexually-explicit content that require paid memberships for access.
To the first of the questions, "Is there sexually-explicit material on the Internet?"--we can answer yes. Searches in five different search engines revealed that there are many web sites that either contain or are dedicated to sexually-explicit material.
How does one access sexually-explicit material on the Internet? We showed three ways: One was through the search engine Yahoo. Another was through the search engine Altavista, which is similar to the majority of other search engines. The third way to encounter sexually-explicit material was by directly entering the URL of a sexually-explicit web site into a web browser. Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler were given as examples of popular sexually-oriented magazines with names that could easily be converted into accurate URL's without previous knowledge of the URL.
One way to accidentally access Internet sexually-explicit material was established. This was to enter into a search engine a search word that seemingly had nothing to do with sexually-explicit material but that nonetheless matched some web sites with sexually-explicit content. While this is a concern, once someone has a moderate amount of experience with the Web, he or she does not usually stumble upon sexually-explicit sites unless the Web user goes looking for them.
What might prevent one from accessing sexually-explicit material on the Internet? Filtering software and other technological solutions, education, the presence of a parent, personal responsibility, and other alternatives will be considered later. When we consider the remaining technological option, adult verification, we saw two drawbacks: 1) reluctance or inability (on the part of children) to provide the personal information required by such a service and 2) unwillingness to pay for such a service. A larger problem is the relative ease with which one can obtain usernames and passwords from people or web sites distributing this information. Finally, these systems are used voluntarily and right now most web sites do not use them.
Many web sites post warnings informing people browsing them that the site contains adult material and that it should only be accessed if the person is of legal age. Many sites do not provide ways to verify one's age. They only require one to click on a link that declares one is of legal age. A child could easily follow the adult link. These warning do not, therefore, prevent anyone from accessing sexually-explicit material.