Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the advantage of the closed garden

Tim Bray is attacking Apple's iPhone approach:

The iPhone vision of the mobile internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disneyfied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers

I'm a big proponent of open platforms and freedom of information, but the thing that Tim hates Apple for is also a useful tool for parents -- it provides a practical way to protect their children. When we hear the word "censorship," we often think of an oppressive government, but part of parenting is responsible censorship to limit a young child's access to pornography, obscene language, and violence.

The Internet lacks a mechanism (like zoning laws or movie ratings) for parents to easily filter content, but the closed nature of Apple's devices and app store make this possible on a small scale. It would be great if this problem could be solved on a grander scale (in a way that doesn't require the closed garden approach), but today, the Internet puts the world's best library next door to the red light district.

It's hard for me to imagine an open system that can effectively control access to such a huge amount of content. Our existing real-world systems (the MPAA, zoning boards, the bouncer who checks IDs at the bar) require some central authority and don't seem like they could handle the scale. The closest thing that I've seen is OpenDNS, but it is still too hard to effectively filter out the bad without also losing some of the good -- plus it requires a technical know-how that many parents don't have.

Are their any examples of systems that can self-regulate access without a central authority?


  1. Even the rating systems that we have in place have their flaws (e.g. This Film Is Not Yet Rated takes an interesting look at the MPAA), but I'll take a somewhat flawed system over none at all -- even something as benign as Google search is risky with kids around.

    I totally agree with the concern about having too much control in the hands of a single company, but in some sense, it almost seems like it is a better job for a company than a government. With a company, I can always take my business elsewhere, but picking a new government is a much bigger investment.

    It's certainly a tough line to draw, and it is going to be increasingly difficult for parents to enforce those boundaries. As much as I envy the access to information that future generations will have, this comes with a high cost: developing the self-control to use it wisely. If our current obesity epidemic has exposed anything, it is the difficulty we have controlling our biological desires -- how well will teenagers fare when they carry around devices that allow 24/7 access to almost anything?