Parental controls and the safety of children online is a hot topic at the moment, and while last week saw a confusing time when no-one was sure whether parental controls would be opt-in or opt-out for new customers at four major providers, Orange quietly announced an offer to give customers free access to controls for 12 months.
Broadband providers offering some form of anti-virus control is nothing new, but Orange are offering both Anti Virus and parental controls via McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2012 + Parental controls free for 12 months for both existing and new customers on Orange's home broadband services. The second 12 months will be half price if people decide to continue to use it.
Last week saw a lot of discussion on network level filters, which carry the advantage of filtering everything from desktop's and laptops, to WiFi enabled phones, tablets and games consoles. Alas, in a household with a varying range of ages these can often be very restrictive, which is where controls that run on the computer itself can be more useful. The correct solution is very much down to the individuals choice at this time, though one can envisage the situation arising when mandatory network based controls are applied. Whether this happens in the UK depends a lot on how individuals and those responsible for children in their care decide to manage internet access for children.
Interestingly PC Pro has an article covering how McAfee manage its parental controls and site categorisation, which is a small team of five to ten people who review a site and set its category appropriately, with another member of the team reviewing it. The article highlights issues such as only part of a site requiring blocking, or dynamic content resulting in a site being blocked due to one short term item at the time of reviewing. This McAfee list is what BT and Sky currently use and it is not publicly available for download - the simple reason being it would negate a lot of the work.
The McAfee system does have an appeals process, but how a site would spot whether it is being blocked incorrectly is another issue that would rely on user feedback or spotting a big drop in traffic. While there is good reason for the IWF block list to remain private, for general site classification, there is perhaps a case for some form of peer review. A centrally managed list would at first seem a good idea, as more resources could be used to create a more responsive system that is more widely used, but the danger there is that with a single list it might be too easy to influence categorisation.
The whole debate around content filtering shows to some extent how deeply ingrained internet use is now in the UK, and with the website Parent Port launching, it will be interesting to see whether the concerns raised by the recent Bailey Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood are bourne out by complaints and comments to Parent Port. There is one concern with Parent Port at this time, and it may be addressed in the near future, and that is there is no obvious path for people to complain about online content. Parent Port currently acts as an aggregator for various traditional media bodies, with little scope for complaining about an online blog, messaging service or website unless it is a video game, film or advert.