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Four major providers to offer network based content filtering
Tuesday 11 October 2011 11:16:13 by Andrew Ferguson

Not that long ago, TalkTalk launched its HomeSave content filtering service to help parents keep their children safe online. Today, BT, Sky and Virgin Media are poised to join them by offering customers a similar service to block adult content.

Blocking of adult content has been possible for many years through the use of software installed on computers, however this requires parents to be knowledgable enough to do so. This type of solution also only protects the computers on which the software is installed, leaving games consoles, mobile phones, tablets and any other computers unprotected. Today's announcement means that the vast majority of broadband connections will come with an easy way to block adult content, a feature welcomed by many parents, but which will also concern some parties.

To some extent this move is perhaps indicative of the industry trying to head off more stringent measures that have beeb demanded by some politicians. The head of the Mothers' Union, Reg Bailey is due to meet the Prime Minister to discuss a review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of children in the media. Further proposals include restrictions on steamy pop videos and modesty sleeves for magazines that feature sexualised images.

The danger now is how well can providers implement these filters and how long it takes before providers are in trouble for allowing a site with adult content to slip through the system, or indeed accidentally block sites that have no adult content. The systems needs to be open to review to ensure that allegations of censorship can be looked into. Parent Port is being set up to enforce standards across media in terms of protecting children and will eventually accept reports of inappropriate content.

Technically the dynamic nature of the internet makes filtering a wide target—a news website that occasionally covers adult topics may be perfectly child safe for six weeks, but one news story with 'saucy' content might see a specific page being blocked. Certainly domain level blocking will not work, and even URL based blocking is far from perfect. Add to this the simple fact that teenagers are very enterprising and given a computer in their bedroom will spend hours finding out how to circumvent blocks. For younger children this is less of an issue, since like book reading, using the Internet should be a joint adult/child activity.

A key point is that the filtering appears not to just be pornography, but a wide variety of adult content, and we presume this includes things like 18+ video games. If the filters simply address sexual content, and not violent content, then we run the risk of creating a generation that sees violence as ok, but sexual acts between adults as abhorrent.

Very little detail is available on how the filters will actually work at this time. We presume that households with a mixture of children in them will be able to adjust the level of control at any time of the day. Any system that is too hard to control will result in people ignoring or misunderstanding it, and then before you know it, the school playground gossip is that "so and so's house" has naughty internet access.

The effort by the industry should be commended for trying to help parents get back some of the control over how their kids use the Internet, but parents should be under no illusion—their responsibility for ensuring their children use the Internet appropriately does not end by switching on this content filter.


Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Opt in or Opt out ?

There are several blogs and sites that I can't access on my vodafone without opting in to the "adult content" option.

The ethos of "adult" appears to encompass tobacco, alcohol, swearing and other things the US bible belt doesn't appreciate.
Posted by rizla over 6 years ago
Its opt-out. All users will have "adult" sites blocked by default and you will have to request the filters removed.

Its much the same as mobiles have been doing for years. It only works on mobiles because all your data is proxied anyway.

Of course content filters can be used for all sorts of stuff mmmm? Not that I'm being cynical or anything ;)
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
Opt in/out at point of subscription, not sure. Hence no speculation.

Agree on the false positives from mobile networks, have seen a few. Also not sure how the systems will cope with sites that offer a range of PG through to 18 content, e.g. film rental sites.
Posted by rizla over 6 years ago
Its going to be opt-out Andrew. The lobbyists are saying there's no point in the filters unless its opt-out. If its opt-in then it won't fly in political terms.
Posted by driz over 6 years ago
Bring on the police state
Posted by fibrebunny over 6 years ago
So ISP's will be parents by proxy and the daily wail will soon be screaming headlines at us. As some demented mare claims her little precious was corrupted by a nip shot or something equally absurd that slipped through. Plus of course tales of the reverse. As parents are uniquely adept at offloading responsibilities.

All the while Dads reading page3, well... Looking at it. lol
Posted by dustofnations over 6 years ago
People seem to be all too willing to hand their liberties over to the state in return for absolving themselves of responsibilities. We should take a look at other countries that have let the tendrils of the bureaucracy creep into Internet access - Australia being a prime example, to see that it is now being (mis)used for wider and wider purposes.

It seems a government can do anything it likes if it is followed by cries of "think of the children!".
Posted by dustofnations over 6 years ago
... and frankly, there are far worse things than a knowledge of sexuality. The fact the system is going to be opt-out makes clear negative insinuations towards those decide they don't want it.

There are going to be so many grey areas, and what is a suitable level of blocking for one age group is not for another. Last time I checked sexual acts were decidedly more natural than violence, the latter of which seems more socially acceptable somehow.
Posted by mhc over 6 years ago
The next thing will be that the police will be demanding the lists of those who do not want the bar imposed ...

My work occasionally requires access to sites of various types - violence, sport, news, adult, child &c. So, my company will need to ensure no blocks are placed on accessing any websites.

Rather than wait, I will be writing to BT this week stating that they do not have my authority to block or access to any websites on my behalf.

Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
There will be legitmate ways and means to bypass these filters.

Discussion of the ways and means will presumably be blocked too?

How is anyone who didn't see it at the time supposed to see what the ridiculous fuss was about re Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction", or (less ridiculously?) the fuss about Rhianna before the watershed?

The Mothers Union should have better things to do with their time and influence.
Posted by tommy45 over 6 years ago
Lunacy total lunacy no doubt some minister will stand to receive some financial gain indirectly for this, being as corrupt as they all seem to be
Posted by wanapoo over 6 years ago
Who would be responsible of classifying if something is suitable for children or not. I remember when the popstar Katy Perry sung a song with Elmo on Sesame Street which is fundamentally a childrens program, and it was banned for being unsuitable for children.
Posted by orly2 over 6 years ago
I can see this being a function/feature creep nightmare.

Not that it'll matter to anyone with more than the most basic knowledge of how to easily circumvent such restrictions.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Damn. I thought this kind of crap was thrown out with the last government. Whatever happened to the traditional Tory attitude of indifference toward the great unwashed masses?
Posted by tommy45 over 6 years ago
All governments are not the friend of the Internet user, they seek total control over it, that is their ultimate goal, things such as this all help make that a little bit closer to reality,is why they go along with them
Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
Does this apply to BTwholesale as well as BT Retail?

"traditional Tory attitude of indifference toward the great unwashed masses?"

The unwashed masses have the potential to start threatening the ruling classes. The police can no longer be relied upon to protect the ruling classes. There needs to be a Plan.

"how to easily circumvent such restrictions. "

You're banned from the Internet for mentioning that.
Posted by orly2 over 6 years ago
"You're banned from the Internet for mentioning that"

I laugh in the face of this ban! har har

Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
Now I could see the validity of worldwide sites going to .xxx and ISPs blocking by default, and charging users £5 per month more for all that 'extra bandwidth'. :)
Posted by camieabz over 6 years ago
Actually it would be funny to see how many folk sign a No.10 petition on that one. A few million?
Posted by cf492bcc over 6 years ago
Just what the government ordered.
Posted by MikeT over 6 years ago
Kids will probably figure out from each other how to bypass any filters their parents setup then throw a key logger on their parents computers for extra laughs.
Posted by dsample over 6 years ago
Every time I hear about one of these 'great firewall' kind of stories I have Benny Hill clips going around in my head, and it seems even more appropriate with this attempt. They'll never catch them all, or permanently, unless they don't mind being heavy handed and banning words in domains... sorry scunthorpe websites you're time is up again.
Posted by dsample over 6 years ago
"Think about the children!"... no, think about the parents! You made the kids, you deal with them. If they're the kind of child that needs to be watched in order to keep them from being mature about their use of the Internet (or if you're the kind of parent that wants to be sure) then put the computer in a common area (lounge, kitchen-dining room) and use the Internet together as a family. Otherwise don't complain that someone else should be keeping your kids safe... you're responsible.
Posted by dsample over 6 years ago
Anyway, obscenity is not a clear line that can be crossed, it's all about opinion, who gets to decide what is and what isn't acceptable 'child-friendly' content?

Last thing, a question... where are the clearly defined and publicised processes about how to continue being unfiltered? We're all confused enough between the many different newspaper journalists saying it's either opt-in or opt-out... someone, document the bloody thing! preferably on the front page of the Parent Port - "If you want to view porn, click here to make sure you're not filtered"
Posted by prlzx over 6 years ago
Will have to wait and see what is included in any filtering. Normally to block a type of content one also has to block web proxies, SOCKS proxies and maybe free VPN services to be more than trivial to avoid.

These services could be used to try to avoid censorship and blocking under oppressive regimes so any government that suggests blocking them at home must have a well developed sense of irony.
Posted by prlzx over 6 years ago
That these ideas have come on as far as they have suggests that committees or cabinet meetings either have:
- no informed technical input on what is achievable
- no-one able to explain in lay terms why certain ideas are unworkable
- motivation to discount such advice in favour of the political "seen to be doing something - anything about it"
Posted by prlzx over 6 years ago
If this is based on "well mobiles are filtered", some mobile operators already block legitimate IP services (things like VoIP which compete with a chargeable service they offer).

It used to be effective enough for an operator to filter by proxing web access, ignoring the wider internet.

With smartphones, much of the app traffic is not through the web browser or uses SSL/TLS so it's likely that mobile operator filters which only match http may become rather less effective, while those which also filter other IP services may render legitimate functionality unusable.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
Confusion reigns on this, and some are blaming a briefing to the press (which I was not at).

In short, we don't know what the default will be for new sign-ups, and existing customers may or may not just get a letter to let them know the option is there if they want it.
Posted by tommy45 over 6 years ago
It should be a case we provide a filtering service should you need one, and the customer then signs up for it,and also should be made to bear any extra costs to the isp for implementing it,any costs should not be spread across an isp's customer base, i for one won't need it so why should i pay for it?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
One step closer to The Great Firewall of Britain.

Like I said years ago:

CP -> Hardcore -> Normal porn -> Anything government deems offensive.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
Also I've had uncensored internet from the first family PC (age 8) and first game was Unreal.

I have a clean police record :)
Posted by vm1990 over 6 years ago
while im all up for blaming goverment its partly there fault but its mainly all these parents that dont know how to or dont even try to control what there kids do online, then go around bitching that there kids have seen porn, as russel howard once said "you get out what you put in" it proberbly dosnt help so many parents finding it scary talking about SEX!!. How do you know when its the right time to tell them? when you look on the computer and the historys full of porn sites XD im not going to suffer because of your stupidity
Posted by vm1990 over 6 years ago
oh and the people that decide what go on the lists of blocked sites are called the IWF people who control the blocking of CP websites and all that stuff
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

This is about censorship, since when did the government ever care about the people?
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