ISPs prompt parents over blocking internet porn

ISPs prompt parents over blocking internet porn

Summary: BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are to force their customers to choose whether to turn on parental controls when they set up their broadband connection

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BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media plan to force their customers to think about setting parental controls on their broadband connections, in a move aimed at protecting children online.

TalkTalk

TalkTalk, BT, Sky and Virgin Media are to remind people they have the option of using parental controls when they set up their broadband connections. Photo credit: Flickr

On Tuesday, the ISPs said they have come up with a code of practice to help their customers learn about how parental controls work and how they can be used to block websites, such as porn sites, that are unsuitable for children. As part of this, new broadband customers are now being made to choose whether or not to activate the feature when they first set up their connection.

"The ISPs have committed to improve the way they communicate to customers, enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect children online," BT said in a statement. "The four ISPs are working with parents' groups and children's charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so."

The providers have worked closely with the government and "a range of stakeholders" to bring in the new measures, according to BT. The measures are a response to the Bailey Report, compiled by Mothers Union chief Reg Bailey, which contains recommendations on preventing the early sexualisation of children.

No automatic site-blocking

Despite reports to the contrary, the code of practice does not mean the ISPs are automatically blocking pornographic sites, and customers who wish to see such content do not have to ask their provider for permission to do so.

The blocking feature is not new. All four ISPs already offered the controls, and some of their users already have the feature turned on. The only change is that customers can no longer sidestep the activation decision. BT said it plans to remind existing customers that they can activate the parental controls if they wish.

The ISPs have committed to improve the way they communicate to customers, enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls.

– BT

In the cases of BT, Sky and Virgin Media, the parental control software is PC-based rather than network-based, and comes on the CD new customers need to set up their connection.

TalkTalk goes a step further, in that it uses a network-level blocking system called HomeSafe, which has already raised the ire of anti-censorship campaigners.

HomeSafe has blocked "one million websites" since its introduction in May, TalkTalk said in a statement, adding it hopes to see other ISPs follow its lead with network-level measures.

However, a spokesman for BT said the company is "not convinced these screen material as effectively as PC-based controls, at this time".

"They could prove irritating and end up being unused, because they are inflexible and do not offer the versatility of PC-based controls," the spokesman told ZDNet UK.

On the wider move, he added that putting the decision to activate parental controls front and centre is "not intended to be a sop to government in a bid to prevent greater restrictions".

ParentPort site

Separately on Tuesday, the UK's media regulators launched ParentPort, an online complaint centre where people can raise concerns about inappropriate content across the whole of British media, including advertising, TV shows and newspaper articles.

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The site was jointly developed by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Authority for Television On Demand, the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Press Complaints Commission and the Video Standards Council/Pan-European Game Information.

"Seven UK media regulators have come together to develop a single website, with a single aim — to help protect children from inappropriate material," Ofcom chief Ed Richards said in a statement. "Each regulator shares this common purpose and is committed to helping parents make their views and concerns known."

"We have already tested the website with parents and the feedback has been positive," Richards added. "We will keep listening to parents and intend to develop the site in light of further feedback."


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Topic: Security

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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