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UK parental internet controls: What do ISPs offer?

What are Parental Internet Controls?

Latest news for Parental Internet ControlsParental internet controls in the UK are a set of proposed measures to restrict access to sites containing adult content (pornography, violent films) social networking sites and other sites ‘promoting suicide, anorexia, self harm and violence,’ or where children could ‘be the targets of online sexual grooming or bullying.’  

The government wants the UK’s biggest ISPs, that’s BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, to have a system of controls set up for parents to use. 

As well as requiring ISPs to have parental controls set up, the government wants every customer to be presented with the option of using them. Parental controls will need to be a whole home, network level solution as well. 

UK parental internet controls: What do ISPs offer?

What are network level content filters? 

Network level filtering means that all computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones connected to the same wireless router in the home will be subject to the same level of filtering. 

TalkTalk currently offers HomeSafe, a service that filters access to specific types of website. Parents can customise this list, which incorporates controls to lock out access to things like adult sites, gambling sites, and social networks. 

BT, Sky and Virgin Media are currently preparing network-level filtering solutions of their own. 

Network-level content filtering: Pros and cons

Network level filtering provides peace of mind to concerned parents as everything can be blocked with one quick decision. It doesnt require a great deal of technical know-how and is easy to implement.

With software like Claranet SOHO’s Childsafe, parents can restrict access to certain websites at certain times of day, implementing ‘homework time’ style blocks, which would restrict access to social networks and chat sites until a certain time, leaving children free to use the internet for homework and research.

They also won’t stop children bypassing filters if, for example, they took their laptops to somewhere (say a friend’s house) where the network wasn’t restricted in the same way.

As well as network-level filtering, there’s another solution that’s more customisable and targets specific 

What is device-level content filtering?

Device-level filtering could instead be applied to specific computers, laptops and phones. Parents would be encouraged to buy or download software and installing it on their children’s devices which would see them unable to access harmful content wherever they are.

It would also avoid situations where parents in the home may want to access social networks and gambling sites, but might want to restrict access to these sites for their children.

TalkTalk’s MobileSafe Android app is a good example of device-level filtering from a consumer’s point of view. Even if a child with MobileSafe installed on their phone connected to an unfiltered WiFi access point, MobileSafe will still work. 

Device-level content filtering: Pros and cons

Device-specific filtering would see harmful content locked out at any location. This would side step the above scenario where a child might access harmful sites at another house or via unfiltered public WiFi.

A problem with device-level filtering is that parents will require a level of technical knowledge to install software and apps on computers and laptops. 

Under the current proposals it’s unsure if ISPs would be required to provide access to filtering software for devices and free advice for less tech-savvy parents. It’s also possible that any software could easily be uninstalled by a child.

A downside of any kind of filtering is that innocuous, non-harmful sites sometimes get caught in the dragnet. Research from the London School of Economics and the Open Rights Group has shown this to be the case with adult content filters which are currently used by the UK’s mobile networks.

Image: arawatari/Flickr

Latest news for Parental Internet Controls

Sky introduces network-level broadband filtering

UK parental internet controls: Sky introduces network-level broadband filtering​Sky has annoucned plans to launch network-level filtering on Safer Internet Day.

The new filtering process wil restrict access to certain types of sites, including those featuring adult content. Parents can also access reporting tools, so they know if any settings and filters have been changed and when everyone in the home is accessing the internet.

This compliments measures Sky has already taken to ensure that they’re doing everything they can to provide safety measures for parents and make them easy to use.

Sky has already blocked access to adult sites on the Cloud public WiFi network and adopted an ‘active choice’ system on sign up, making sure that new subscribers were given a choice whether to apply parental controls or not.

February 5, 2012

Euro digital czar opposes automatic censorship

Automatic internet censorship to protect children has been ruled out by Europe’s digital policy chief.

Neelie Kroes wants all devices to have parental controls, but they won’t be turned on by default, while David Cameron would turn on blocking automatically if users don’t customise it.

Kroes, the European Union’s Digital Commissioner, said her department is working with industry to improve the ways default online censorship can protect children.

Parental internet controls: Euro digital czar opposes automatic censorship
The internet, as seen in the Daily Mail

She blogged: “The high value that we attach to the open internet means that we promote installation of parental controls on all devices, but not their activation by default. 

“This could, in practice, have the unintended consequence of limiting internet access for many adult users. Much better to give a real choice to parents, through clearly visible, user-friendly tools whose availability is well publicised.”

In December, the British government rejected automatic content filtering by internet providers after research said parents don’t want it.

Days later, the Prime Minister navigated a tight path between common sense and frothing tabloid panic by telling Daily Mail readers that he wants every computer to have pre-installed parental control software.

The software will ask if there are children in the user’s household and block pornography and self-harm sites by default, unless parents take time to tailor their settings.

Cameron wrote: “With our new system, every parent will be prompted to protect their child online. If they don’t make choices, protection will be automatically on.

“Once all this is in place, Britain will have the most robust internet child protection measures of any country in the world – bar none.”

He’s also appointed moral guardian and censorship campaigner Claire Perry MP to set up the system. 

Her first job might be to clear up whether the PM is talking about forcing every PC to be sold with parental control software, and who will pay for it, whether it also affects mobile phones, tablets, smart TVs and games consoles, or if controls will be run at a network level by ISPs.

January 25, 2013

Image: Don Hankins/Flickr

CyberSmart Awards seek to swap snooping for safety

UK parental internet controls: CyberSmart Awards seek to swap snooping for safetyA quarter of parents spy on their children’s online activity, but more than a third of children wipe their browser history and have secret online accounts: it’s a recipe for trouble.

Online security firm ESET is seeking to redress the balance with a £5,000 award for the best educational campaign to help parents and schools teach online safety to children.

Mark James, technical director of ESET UK, said: “Online safety is the modern day ‘birds and bees’ conversation; it evokes dread and nervousness in parents who feel ill-prepared to teach their child the do’s and don’ts of the online world. 

“The research shows that two thirds of parents believe it’s primarily their role to educate children about internet safety, above schools, the police or the Government, however their own online behaviours are questionable.
“The internet has brought a tremendous benefit to every aspect of daily life and we want to encourage people of all ages to engage, explore, learn and experience the value it can bring – however education is fundamental to keep everyone armed with the knowledge of how to browse safely.”

Half of nine-to-16-year-olds get no formal internet safety training at school, although 70 per cent of children think they should be able to go online without any parental monitoring.

Meanwhile, ESET’s data from research by OnePoll says although 75 per cent of parents monitor their children’s browsing, 25 per cent think their children know more than them about online security – so they never talk to them about it.

The CyberSmart Awards will recognise organisations, schools, businesses, charities and individuals across the UK that are working on initiatives to educate people about Internet safety.

January 21, 2013

Playboy TV and Demand Adult sites spanked by Ofcom

Playboy TV and Demand Adult sites spanked by OfcomTwo Playboy sites have been fined by Ofcom for failing to restrict access to pornographic material.

While the sites feature ‘Enter Only if 18 or Above’ buttons, Ofcom has determined that this isn’t effective enough to deter younger eyes. The regulator also criticised the site for letting members pay to access hardcore videos with debit cards.

Ofcom has stated that porn sites should restrict online payments to credit card holders only. Credit cards can’t be issued to anyone under 18, whereas debit cards can be issued to children as young as 11. Furthermore, Demand Adult provided access to clips of explicit content without any payment required.  

Demand Adult was fined £65,000 whereas Playboy TV was fined £35,000.

Similarly, porn site Strictly Broadband was fined last December for not having appropriate safeguards in place; there was no ‘18 or Above’ entry message and preview clips of films could be streamed without anyone having to pay a penny.

January 17, 2013

Government rejects default porn block

The Government has rejected proposals to force ISPs to block access to pornography by default.

“Parents have just as much responsibility for keeping their children safe when they are online as when they are offline,” said the report “and the basic principles of avoiding harm are the same.”

Parents seemed to concur, with the majority of those who responded saying that supervising their children’s access to the internet was the most effective method at controlling what their kids access online.

UK parental internet controls: Government rejects default porn block

Following publication of two Government reviews in 2008, 2010 and 2011 plus an independent parliamentary inquiry this year, its been decided that an ‘active choice’ system, whereby parents and households with children will be encouraged to install and make use of existing parental controls.

While this stops short of calls for blanket porn blocking for everyone the response to the consultation shows that the Government will be:

“urging [internet service] providers to go one step further and configure their systems to actively encourage parents, whether they are new or existing customers, to switch on parental controls. The Government believes providers should automatically prompt parents to tailor filters to suit their child’s needs e.g. by preventing access to harmful and inappropriate content. We also expect ISPs to put in place appropriate measures to check that the person setting up the parental controls is over the age of 18.”

Finding only minimal enthusiasm from parents for a blanket ban on porn, the report recommends that ISPs should promote the use of filtering software as parents in the report said they’d like to be better informed about the tools available to them.

Currently BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Sky, EE and O2, the UK’s biggest ISPs all offer some form of parental controls which we’ve written about here. Parents with Windows and Mac PCs and laptops can also make use of basic parental controls available to them by default.

A total default block on adult sites seems to have been kicked to the kerb, for now at least.

December 17, 2012

Porn on-demand site Strictly Broadband fined by Ofcom

Porn on-demand site Strictly Broadband has been spanked by Ofcom for not keeping its steamy site hidden behind an ‘Enter Only if 18 or Above’ message.

The streaming site which features titles such as Spunky Busty Claire, Fetish Fanatics and Mother Lovers Society was found to be in breach of The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) which regulates on-demand content.

UK Parental Internet Controls: Porn on-demand site Strictly Broadband fined by Ofcom

Specifically, Strictly Broadband broke Rule 11, which states that: “If an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it.”

Ofcom strapped on a £60,000 fine after it was revealed that Strictly Broadband had no such 18+ warnings in place and ‘included a significant quantity of free material’ depicting ‘unsimulated sexual activity in explicit detail [which] could be viewed without registration or payment’ between 31st of May to the 1st of August 2012.

The Adult Trade Industry Association (ATIA) is critical of the ATVOD’s stance which it claims it penalising UK-based smut sites.

A statement from the ATIA’s site reads “Like all responsible stakeholders in the adult industry AITA fully supports the goal to protect children from viewing inappropriate content,” adding that “ATVOD themselves have admitted that it is not a level playing field as they have no jurisdiction over free tube sites hosted outside the UK.”

It’s an issue that would perhaps be sidestepped should Government plans on online porn make it into UK law. Under current proposals, parents would be forced to make an active choice on filtering access to porn sites when signing up with an ISP or buying a new computer.

This is a climb down from earlier proposals which would have seen everyone in the UK, regardless of whether or not they had children, asked if they wanted porn filtered or not at the point of sale.

December 7, 2012

Porn block choice could be mandatory for parents only

Parents and guardians will face a mandatory question as to whether they want porn blocked whenever they sign up for internet services or buy a new computer.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, David Cameron is pushing for an ‘active choice’ system where ISPs and PC retailers will ask customers if they have any children.

Those answering ‘yes’ will then be taken through a process where they can set up a content filtering system appropriate for the children in their house, shuttering access to pornography or restricting access to sites like Facebook and Myspace during homework time.

Porn block choice could be mandatory for parents only

This is something of a climbdown from initial proposals which would’ve seen everybody – regardless of whether or not they were parents – required to go through the same process, a process which some felt was tantamount to ISPs asking people ‘do you like watching porn?’.

Now it seems we’re getting a solution whereby parents are given the powers they need up front and mature, sensible, emotionally stable consenting adults can access the internet free from any kinds of intrusive filtering or restrictions. If the Mail’s coverage is accurate the this seems like more of a compromise than blanket filtering for everyone.

Most of the major ISPs have already implemented an active choice system, with BT providing “a system where new customers using the installation CD have to make such a choice about the child protection settings they want,” and Virgin Media giving parents “a clear choice as to whether to use the high-quality filtering tools we make available for free.” Smaller ISPs have introduced similar controls like ClaranetSOHO and its ChildSafe software.

Government ruling would see all UK ISPs of a certain size required to offer some form of filtering to parents at sign up. We’ve seen nothing yet from the Department for Education, Parliament or the PM’s home page – we’ll update once we hear something official.

November 20, 2012

81 per cent of UK teens claim to avoid parents eyes

UK parental internet controls: One in ten parents don’t know how to install porn filtersMcAfee has released results of a survey showing that the majority of UK teenagers think they’ve got their parents stumped when it comes to hiding their online activity.

The survey of 200 teens, aged 13-17 and 200 parents shows that 81 per cent of teens think they know how to hide their online activity, despite 50 per cent of parents expressing confidence in being able to monitor what their kids are doing.

A curious 25 per cent of teens are actively searching for pornography, with over half of those (54 per cent) regularly accessing porn up to ‘a few times a month’ and 19 per cent admitting to downloading pirated music.

The survey also collected data from other countries in Europe, which interestingly shows that 20 per cent of Italian parents think their kids are regularly watching porn, when in reality only 42 per cent admitted to watching porn as regularly as this.

Whichever way the figures point, it’s clear that there’s a ‘digital disconnect’ – a discrepancy between what parents think their children are doing and what they’re actually doing.

“Having grown up in the online world, teens are often more online savvy than their parents, making it difficult for parents to provide the necessary guidance,” said McAfee EMEA’s chief technology officer Raj Samani.

The figures also show that 47.5 per cent of teens minimise browser windows when a parent enters the room and 38.8 per cent clear the browser history – not especially sophisticated methods of subterfuge, but actions that seems to fox some parents.

“Parents cannot give up – they must challenge themselves to become familiar with the complexities of the online universe and educate themselves about the various threats that await their teens online,” Samani added.

We’ve put together a couple of basic features to make it easier for parents to monitor what their kids do online (on both Windows 7 and Mac OS X machines) and we’ve also compared the parental control software that comes bundled by most major ISPs.

While mandatory Parental Internet Controls are something being discussed by the UK Government right now the report concludes that parents must take an active role to ensure their teens are practicing safe online behaviour. Despite all the legislation and software in the world it looks like the best form of parental internet control might be good old fashioned parenting.

November 19, 2012

One in ten parents don’t know how to install porn filters

Ofcom’s latest research into consumer habits reveals that one in ten parents of 5-15 year olds either don’t know how to activate parental controls on their broadband connections or don’t know they’re there.

The main reason for parents of younger children not using filtering software is that they’re supervised by their parents at all times (63 per cent of 5-7 year olds and 8-11 year olds)

The report, which draws data from 1,717 interviews with parents and children aged 5-15, also shows that children, particularly those aged 12-15 are spending more time online and are more likely to go online alone as they get older.

Despite all of the big ISPs offering some form of parental control whether it’s free software or, like TalkTalk’s HomeSafe, it’s built into the network, some parents are still missing out.

We’ve extensively covered the parental control options that are available from the likes of BT, Virgin Media and Sky and we’ve also looked at how you can enable the built-in parental features on Windows 7 and Mac OS X PCs and laptops.

The UK government is currently debating whether or not ISPs should have parental controls turned on by default. Proposals include an ‘active choice’ system whereby parents are given an unavoidable choice during sign up, or an ‘opt in’ system where access to adult-rated sites are blocked by default and subscribers have to opt in to get unrestricted access to the internet.

Ofcom’s figures also show that parents concerns about online content is decreasing. 97 per cent believe responsibility lies with them whether or not children see unsuitable TV programmes.

An earlier YouGov survey carried out on behalf of TalkTalk shows that 78 per cent of adults with children are not in favour of automatic content filtering.

October 31, 2012

Deadline for responses next week

78 per cent of parents not in favour of default porn block

New data from TalkTalk shows that the majority of parents reject the blocking of porn and other sites deemed inappropriate for young eyes.

Research from YouGov commissioned by TalkTalk shows that 78 per cent of adults with children are not in favour of automatic content filtering. 37 per cent of adults said that an Active Choice/opt-in during sign up was the best solution for parents.

A further 30 per cent said that unfiltered internet access should be the default setting and filtering should only be available if people ask for it post-sign up.

TalkTalk’s own research on 656 of it’s own customers who have been through HomeSafe (TalkTalk’s own Active Choice system) said that 80 per cent of customers thought this was was the way forwards to protect children.

Yesterday saw the deadline for public responses to the Parental Internet Controls bill which could see the Government forcing all UK ISPs to provide content filtering by default or offer it to customers during sign up. 

Image: Johnb2008/Flickr

September 7, 2012 

Public Consultation closes today

Today is the last day you’ll be able to have your say on the debate over whether UK ISPs should block access to adult content by default.

At the end of the day, the government will close its public consultation on Parental Internet Controls which has called for evidence from security experts, ministers, parents and anyone with an opinion on the issue.

Basic proposals include a call for ISPs to restrict access to sites containing pornography, gambling, adult humour or any content considered to be harmful, such as pro-anorexia sites or social networks and chatrooms where children could be potentially bullied or stalked.

Adults wanting to access to blocked sites would need to contact their ISP directly and ‘opt-in’. There’s concern that using this method, subscribers who wanted to access the web in its unfiltered, unrestricted form would end up having their names placed on a ‘perverts list’.

We’ve detailed and broken down the main proposals put forward by the Department for Education which is handling the consultation.

Both the consultation document and the online response form can be found here.

September 6, 2012

Deadline for responses next week

A week today the UK Government will close its public consultation on proposed Parental Internet Controls.

The consultation is on proposed laws that would see ISPs required to place filters on adult or potentially harmful sites or content by default.

Right now Tim Loughton, minister for children and families and Lynne Featherstone, minister for equalities and criminal information, are accepting submissions from members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), or which they sit on the executive board, other organisations and individuals including parents and young people about how to improve online safety.

Public consultation on Parental Internet Controls was opened on the 28th of June.

August 30, 2012


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