Pornography spreads amid futile govt ban
The government initiative to block pornography websites has proved a futile exercise due to lack of technological knowhow and concerted efforts from the state agencies.
On January 1, 2017, the government launched an anti-porn campaign to create safe and secure internet space for all. In the process, it has blocked 22,000 porn sites in the last three years.
But statistics show only blocking websites has had little effect on Bangladeshi internet users as they are increasingly visiting pornographic websites. Besides, such videos can be easily downloaded and circulated.
The country has a very rigid law titled Pornography Control Act-2012, which says preservation, distribution, selling, displaying, advertising of pornographic contents is a punishable offence.
The offender can be sanctioned with two years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Tk 100,000.
Production of pornography, forcing people to act in pornography, sexual harassment through pornography, displaying and distributing pornography through internet and electronic devices come with more severe punishments.
However, the government agencies are at a loss how to enforce the law.
Mustafa Jabbar, minister of post, telecommunication and ICT declared war against pornography soon after he was appointed to this position in January 2018.
“We have been facing a lot of challenges to tackle pornography. We have blocked 22,000 major porn sites but every day new sites are being launched,” he told this correspondent in October this year.
“Pornographic and semi-pornographic contents are being spread also on social media. Again, people are accessing the blocked sites using VPN. We don’t have sufficient manpower to monitor the consumption and technological capacity to stop this menace.”
“However,” he added, “we are working on using artificial intelligence and designing new software to track and identify porn users and producers.”
PORN POPULARITY RISING
Using Google Trends, which analyses the popularity of top search queries in Google Search in a particular region or country, The Daily Star explored popularity of a collection of search terms that are used in Google to visit porn sites by Bangladeshi users. These terms are “Sex Video”, “Porn”, “XXX Video”, “Bangla Sex Video”, etc.
The time period of the analysis was fixed from February 2017 to October 31, 2020 as blocking of porn sites started from January 2017.
The reason behind choosing Google Trends is that Google estimates locations of the users even when they browse internet in incognito mode (hiding identity) or using a virtual private network (VPN).
Google Trends measures search interest in a scale of 0 to 100. The value of 100 means the search term is most popular, 50 means the term is half as popular and 0 means there is no sufficient data about the term.
The analysis showed these porn related terms are some of the most searched phrases on Google by Bangladeshis.
For instance, the term “Bangla Sex Video” has been consistently valued more than 70 since 2017. It has hit the peak popularity value of 100 several times and mostly remained over the value of 90. Throughout September this year, the popularity value of this term was above 75.
For the terms “Sex Video”, “Porn” and “XXX Video”, Google Trends show similar results. All these search items reached the peak popularity value several times in the last three years and most of the times remained above 75.
Google Trends also revealed popularity percentage of other related terms that Bangladeshi users used while searching for the above mentioned terms. And, these data are even more alarming.
For instance, those who searched for “Sex Video” and “Bangla Sex Video” also searched for the terms “Porn Video”, “New Bangla Sex Video”, New Sex Video” and “New Bangla Sex” whose popularity value are 100, 100, 99 and 97 respectively.
Popularity of web porn among Bangladeshi users can be better understood when these search items are compared with other popular search items. Within the same time period (2017-October, 2020), “Sex Video” had the popularity value 50, “Cricket” 22, “Bangla Song” 10, and “Hindi Movie” 7.
One interesting part of the analysis is popularity of these pornographic search terms dropped sharply (even up to below 50) during May-June in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and April-May in 2020 which were in and around the holy month of Ramadan.
Ahmad Musaffa Chowdhury, a software architect and director of Corpovisuals, a technology and communication agency, said Google estimates its users’ locations even when they browse internet using VPN.
“For instance, if you log in to your Google account and watch some videos on YouTube, you may still see similar content suggestions next time you go to the website while connected to a VPN.”
He added, “It is quite understandable that Google uses these data for itself and a part of these data are shared through Google Trends. So it is quite possible to estimate search interest reliably by analysing Google Trends data.”
Prof AKM Ashikur Rahman, department of computer science and engineering at Buet, said, “Google can track users depending on their search behaviour. Many third party VPN applications also share information with Google as these applications are often used as add-ons to the web browser or run in operating systems designed by Google.”
WAY TO CONTROL?
The Cyber Crime Investigation Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police is tasked with patrolling, preventing, detecting and investigating cybercrime in Dhaka city.
AFM Al Kibria, deputy commissioner of the division, said, “We are patrolling the cyberspace constantly. But pornography in these days is spreading so fast through social media and other new sites that it is extremely difficult for us to stop it effectively.
“However, if someone notifies us about any crime related to it, we are able to track the offender down immediately and request Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission [BTRC] to block the content or the website.”
In fact, BTRC sees no solution except blocking more websites to stop the porn menace.
Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of BTRC said, “We have discussed with the global tech giants several times to block adult contents. But they don’t always comply with our request because their definition of adult or obscene content is different from us.
“Therefore, I don’t see any alternative to blocking more websites and even social media sites if necessary. Blocking foreign social media sites and developing similar sites of our own, according to our own ethical values, like China did, is probably the only solution. However, if we block the social media, journalists and youths will get agitated. It’s like a double edged sword.”
Prof AKM Ashikur Rahman, department of computer science and engineering at Buet, has been researching on wireless and sensor networks and artificial intelligence for decades.
He said, “At first, we need to collect data on the pattern of porn consumption such as preferred time, age group of users, etc. Then, using artificial intelligence it is possible to detect which networks are being mostly used for consuming video content at a particular time. In this way, the agencies will get some useful information which may pave the way for effective measures to stop pornography.”
“However,” he added, “we need more research and innovation in this field. If the government engages our researchers and invest on it, we shall be able to find a way to control its spread effectively.”
Source: The Daily Star