Early results from broadband information site Whirlpool's annual survey has found that 91.8 per cent of respondents do not support the idea of mandatory internet filtering, with most believing the government should focus on educating parents and children instead.
In total, some 21,755 people responded to the survey, which is held each year and is seen as a key indicator to the opinions and internet usage patterns of technically proficient Australians and early technology adopters. The full results of the survey, which covers a range of other issues such as hardware usage and experiences with ISPs, are expected to be published soon. Delimiter has gained early access to the filter section of the survey only.
The 91.8 per cent figure has risen since the last survey in early 2009, which showed that 88.9 per cent of the 19,763 respondents at that stage would opt out of a filter if given the option.
This year's result echoes similar polls conducted last year by the Sydney Morning Herald and ZDNet.com.au. Of the 24,378, 96 per cent of respondents to an online SMH poll stated they believed the filtering plan was not a good idea and impinged on their freedom, while 96.6 per cent of the 1746 respondents in the ZDNet.com.au survey stated the government was completely wrong on the policy.
However, a survey recently commissioned by the ABC's Hungry Beast program appeared to show that 80 per cent of respondents supported the filter, prompting strong discussion online about the poll.
Whirlpool's survey this year showed that only 3.2 per cent of respondents believed the government should focus on mandatory internet filtering as an online safety technique.
Instead, 81.8 per cent and 63.9 per cent believed the government should focus on respectively educating parents and children, 43.7 per cent on law enforcement, 42.1 per cent on desktop filter software and 33.5 per cent on subsidising ISP-level opt-in filters.
Whirlpool also queried respondents on what negative and positive results might come from the filtering initiative.
- 90 per cent believed the filter might over-block/restrict access to legitimate information,
- 86.6 per cent believed it may give parents a false sense of security,
- 82.5 per cent believed the system could be abused by future governments,
- 78 per cent believed it may reduce internet performance,
- 67.4 per cent believed it might reduce internet performance, and
- 53.6 per cent believed it might make the internet less reliable.
In terms of positive results, only 32.2 per cent and 40 per cent of respondents to the Whirlpool survey believed the filter would respectively protect children from harm and restrict access to child pornography. 23.1 per cent believed it would restrict access to other "criminal material", while 9.3 per cent believed it would "protect me from visiting inappropriate sites". 8.6 per cent believed it would reduce crime in general.
The internet filtering issue also appeared set to change voting patterns at the next federal election, with 44 per cent of respondents stating the issue would be a "key factor" in their voting decision, and 39.4 per cent stating the issue could affect their vote, but not at the expense of other issues. 14.2 per cent stated it would not affect their vote, while the remainder, 2.4 per cent, were not eligible to vote.
Criticism of Whirlpool survey results in the past has focused on the idea that the site's user base is slanted towards the technically proficient. And there is a demonstrable slant in that direction — the most popular careers by far listed by respondents were in the IT sector — either as managers or IT admins, developers or support officers.
Overall, 32.5 per cent of respondents to Whirlpool's survey listed their role as being IT staff of some sort, with a further 3.2 per cent working in the telecommunications sector. However, virtually every other sector was also represented in the survey's demographics, with popular choices being government (4.7 per cent), engineering/oil/mining (4.7 per cent) and healthcare/medical (2.7 per cent).
The age of the respondents reflected a broad spread among the ages below 50, although respondents aged 17 or younger were excluded from participating. The rest responded as follows:
- 18 to 21 years of age: 11.4 per cent
- 22 to 25 years of age: 16.6 per cent
- 26 to 30 years of age: 18.2 per cent
- 31 to 40 years of age: 24.7 per cent
- 41 to 50 years of age: 13.9 per cent
- 51 or older years of age: 15.2 per cent
33.8 per cent listed their technical proficiency as "guru", with a further 38.3 per cent and 23.5 per cent saying they were respectively a power user or "confident" with technology. Only 4.1 per cent described their technical proficiency level as "still learning" and just 0.3 per cent (only 70 people) said they were a beginner.
Note: On 23 February, the day after this article was first published, Whirlpool stated that the results released in this article did not constitute the final survey results. They were computed for a specific purpose before the Whirlpool survey closed.