New ISP promises child-friendly surfing

ISP has good intentions, but Internet industry says it is missing the point with unrealistic claims

ISP has good intentions, but Internet industry says it is missing the point with unrealistic claims

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) that claims to make it impossible for paedophiles to approach children on the Net met with scepticism when it launched today.

The UK firm providing the service says that it can guarantee children will not be able to log on to adult areas of the Internet. The launch comes as government and industry make a fresh commitment to crack down on unmoderated Internet chatrooms that are used by paedophiles to target vulnerable children.

But the Internet Watch Foundation, the advisory body set up to monitor the growing problem of child pornography on the Internet, is sceptical about the feasibility of an ISP offering restricted access to the Internet. "By preventing access to adult material, it cannot be offering real Internet access, which is a contradiction in terms for an ISP," said David Kerr, chairman of IWF.

The more safety that is guaranteed on the Web, the more restrictive Internet access becomes. "Their claims are large and extravagant, and by not providing any access to chat or newsgroups, they are removing a key feature of the Internet that kids love," said John Carr, Internet consultant at NCH Action for Children. "An ISP who doesn't provide moderated chat is missing a key point."

V21 says that it has adapted the Internet Explorer (IE) browser to block access to unsuitable areas of the Web. But Carr noted that such ability to limit IE functionality is not unique, and pointed out that no existing product making this claim is foolproof. "The company is making big claims that they may live to regret," he added.

Michelle Elliot director of children's charity Kidscape, has more faith in the technical expertise of Net paedophiles to break through context blocking engines such as V21. "I'd expect the wily and cunning individual to disguise themselves as someone else in order to get through the system," she said.

The Internet Crime Forum (ICF) report, published in March, revealed that one in five of the 4.8 million children online in the UK have been approached by paedophiles in Internet chatrooms. Growing concerns over the risk of children using an unmoderated Web will be addressed by a special taskforce recently set up by the Home Office.

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