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DON’T TRUST THAT REMOTE!!!

Girl TV Cropped MediumIt is an advertised benefit: Parental controls on your cable/satellite system allow parents to keep children from viewing inappropriate material.

And, we can trust this system, right?

Nope!

There are massive holes this system of blocking programs due to program ratings.  Depending on your provider and their data entry, your children may be able to access movies/shows containing softcore pornography and explicit violence as well as other  shows that deal with mature material (such as “The Science of Sex”).

What am I talking about?

Well, let’s begin by looking at the system of parental controls.

TV Shows have ratings that are part of a voluntary system.  Here is the list of most commonly used ratings:

  • TV-Y Directed at Young Children
  • TV-Y7 Directed at Children 7 and up
  • TV-G General Audiences
  • TV-PG Parental Guidance suggested
  • TV-14 Recommended for viewers 14 years old and older
  • TV-MA Mature audiences

Most conscientious parents set ratings limits on the TVs in the house that children will watch (and many also set them for “Mom & Dad’s TV)”.  This involves using the remote control to navigate your particular provider’s menu system, select the ratings level, which will require a passcode (normally a 4-digit number), and then set a passcode.

In theory, each show above the maximum allowed rating will be blocked.  You can even see what a show is rated via the channel guide (on most systems).

With this in place we can let the kids have their sleep-over down in the Family Room with no worries, right?

WRONG!

FILTERS THAT DON’T!

This system has one very weak point:  It depends on the content providers and/or cable/satellite service providers to make sure that the appropriate rating code is part of a shows’ electronic data stream.  If this is not done, then the filter WILL NOT WORK!

For example, on a nationally known cable system, which I’ll call Cable! and that I have personally examined, there are shows on “non-network” TV channels that slip right through the filters.

How?

They do not have the RIGHT RATING CODE!

TV-MAFor instance, a late-night “adult” movie, when viewed on the channel guide, may have a TV-MA rating.  If so, it will be blocked.

But, on this nationally known cable system, a number of “late-night” adult movies do not show a TV-MA rating in the channel guide.  Instead, they only say ADULT or NR (for Not Rated).

And they blow right past the parental controls.

Oops!!!

If this makes you angry, you are going to flip out when you read about the next thing I discovered:

The ON DEMAND versions for the same movie titles
on the same cable channel had the correct ratings codes!

This means that your ON DEMAND access code will keep children from being exposed to adult material on the ON DEMAND channels.  But, they CAN “accidentally” (or on purpose) view adult movies on the regular movie channel.

I contacted the cable provider and asked about this little hole in their system.  I was told that it was the content provider’s responsibility.

I then contacted the cable channel (it was a major movie channel) only to be told that it was the cable company’s responsibility.

What a mix up!

Mix-up?

You have the same movie given two different rating codes.

Version ONE (ON DEMAND) has a rating code that complies with parental access controls.  It also shows up under “SAVED PROGRAMS”, allowing someone to see what has been watched.

Version TWO (regular cable movie channel) has a code that “slips by” your attempts to protect your kids.  On some networks these adult movies usually come on after 1am.  On other networks they come on at 10:00 pm – 10:30 pm!!!

This could be an oversight, right?

Sure!

But it has been something Knights’ Quest has known about and investigated for years.

It seems like the cable companies AND content providers would have caught this problem and fixed it.

If they wanted to.

Remember, the use of ratings is VOLUNTARY.

Why, then, would you have two versions of the same movie so that unsuspecting individuals are exposed to softcore pornography?

We’ll get to that in a few minutes because, in addition to adult movies, you also have late-nite content of an adult/mature nature on NON-MOVIE channels.  Here are some examples:

  • DISCOVERY CHANNEL:  The Science of Sex
  • HISTORY CHANNEL:  Sex in Space;  Sex in the Cold War, others
  • OXYGEN CHANNEL: Talk Sex
  • NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC:  Taboo; Sex Change; others

Now, these are not necessarily purient/sinful and are, in fact, often well-done programs on sex and sexuality.  But, in discussing various aspects of sex and sexuality they become shows that do not need to be viewed by younger children without adult supervision and/or discussion.  Hence, parents need to be able to control access to such programs until:

  • Children are old enough or mature enough for the material to be appropriate, and
  • Parents are present so that the material can be discussed within the context of the values/beliefs of the family.

Lastly, if your kids are up until about 2am they can frequently find the “adult version” of the shopping channel, selling sex toys and other adult products (and NOT on the QVC or the Shopping Channel).

Ooops!!!

But, while this national cable provider has holes in their filters, another major cable provider has its own vulnerabilities.

HIGH-TECH SCRAMBLE!

In investigating a second major national cable provider, whom well call Cable2, I found that their adult programs/movies were correctly coded TV-MA.  This even included the movies found on the Cable1’s system that were not correctly coded, even though they were on the exact same networks/channels and the exact dates/times!  That was good!

Cable RemoteBut, my investigation revealed another major vulnerability.

Let’s say you have this service and have BLOCKED channels 45, 46, 104 ,227,  228 ,229, 300, 396, & 502, and the networks assigned to those numbers, due to potential adult content.  That means the kids cannot get to them without your LOCK CODE.

So, the kids are safe, right?

NOT!

From time-to-time providers add/delete channels.  They also re-group them to better provide “packages” or for demographic reasons (grouping all the Hispanic or Japanese channels in the same number block, for instance).

Cable2, whenever they re-number or re-assign channels, completely resets all parental controls.  But, they don’t tell you that this is happening!  Now, your set box MAY still block those numbers, but the networks assigned to those numbers may have changed, and the networks that you wanted to block may not be on UNBLOCKED numbers!

So, your careful attention to detail, six months ago, is now completely neutralized, unless you know what your provider will be doing and how it will affect your set-up!

Personally, I don’t see why the parental controls cannot be “mapped” to the networks so that, if the numbers for those networks change, the controls change with them.  At the same time, how hard would it be to send an e-mail to the parents to let them know you are about to neutralize the very parental controls you use as a benefit in your marketing?  Finally, the blocking info is stored ON the cable box, so this “mapping” could be built in, distributing the burden to each household.

AM I PARANOID, OR WHAT?

Now, I don’t know for sure why these vulnerabilities are occuring.  It could be a long-standing technical mix-up, but it could also be about

MONEY!

Ask anyone in the business, and you will hear that porn is BIG BUSINESS.  Viewers don’t evenput a strain on the provider’s systems (hotel providers report the AVERAGE amount of time watching a 1-2 hour ON DEMAND porn movie is on the order of 11-12 minutes).  They also charge far more for adult titles (25% – 100% more).

If the adult industry, and cable providers, can bring in new customers through “accidental” encounters on regular cable movie channels, or channels that have been re-assigned, then they stand a much good chance of improving their customer base for the more explict PAY PER VIEW / ON DEMAND channels (not to mention strengthening the DVD and online money streams).

It’s like leaving a carton of cigarettes near a playground.

Think about this scenario:

Little 12-year old Johnnie is having a sleep-over with some of his closest alien-killing associates from school.  After tiring from playing HALO they start channel surfing.  Suddenly, the screen is full of naked people having sex. WHOA!!!

Quickly, the boys all look around to see if any adults are nearby.

NOPE!

So, they keep watching.

And they remember that they can access this material.

Sort of like how their fathers remembered where a stash of Playboy magazines were at a friend’s house.

This is exactly how many start down the road to pornography use and, sometimes, pornography addiction.

A CHALLENGE!

Now, all of this could be completely unintentional and, when brought to the highest levels of the cable and content companies, will be solved.

Or, it might not…

I really can’t say.  Both are possible and, while I speak of possibilities, I cannot find a “smoking gun”.

Let me throw down this challenge, then:

Don’t stand for this. Take action to protect our children.

The first step is to BLOCK the movie channels, either through passcodes or NOT PAYING FOR THEM! Do NOT depend on filters using ratings.

Next, tell your friends and family so they know.

It’s up to you to protect your famly.

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