Huawei, privacy concerns raised on porn filter praised by David Cameron

Huawei, privacy concerns raised on porn filter praised by David Cameron

Summary: TalkTalk's HomeSurf filter was lauded by the UK PM last week. But its links to Huawei and issues around censorship have caused some consternation.

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There are new concerns about the UK’s 'default-on' porn filter plans after reports that Chinese firm Huawei is behind a filter championed by the prime minister.

Last week David Cameron announced plans to introduce an opt-out porn filter for UK internet users, which TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT — which supply 90 percent of the UK's broadband connections between them — have agreed to implement by the end of 2014.

Cameron commended TalkTalk in a speech for showing "great leadership" in deploying a similar content filter, HomeSurf, which can block several types of age-restricted and other material.

TalkTalk launched its HomeSafe filter in 2011 after having integrated Huawei's Service Intelligence Gateway (SIG) product into its network as part of a wider home security service also aimed at filtering malware sites. 

As Huawei notes in a promotional document, TalkTalk’s HomeSafe filter offers a component called Kids Safe, which allows parents to block several categories of sites beyond porn, including dating, drugs, alcohol, filesharing, gambling, and gaming.

"SIG boasts a library of over 65 million URLs in 43 categories, which operators can customise as required," Huawei notes.

When TalkTalk first implemented the system, some concerns were raised about the privacy risks the system posed since it scanned and stored URLs visited by customers. 

According to the BBC, Huawei's UK staff are able to decide which sites TalkTalk's filter blocks. Huawei, however, told ZDNet that HomeSafe is operated by TalkTalk and that Huawei does not "control" the system per se. However, Huawei and TalkTalk are able to make changes on behalf of the customer to ensure the system's security.

"Huawei have been a partner of ours for a number of years, as they have been for most of the British telecommunications industry. We value our partnership with Huawei who have helped us bring great value phone and broadband to this country," TalkTalk said in a statement.

The news of Huawei's comes amid ongoing concerns from politicians in the UK and US about the company's perceived ties to the Chinese government.  Earlier this month, the UK government announced it would be reviewing security at a Huawei centre meant to assess whether any of the vendor's kit placed in UK critical infrastructure posed a risk.

Topics: Huawei, Government UK, Privacy, Telcos, United Kingdom

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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