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Only 5% of new BT customers use Cameron's smut filter
Tuesday 22 July 2014 12:35:17 by Andrew Ferguson

The timing of the push for Parental Controls on broadband connections at the same time as the various snooping and interception revelations is poorly timed, but so long as people are given a fair choice making controls more easily available for parents has to be welcomed. Ofcom has issued the second of three reports on Internet Safety Measures at the behest of the Government and while Ofcom draws very few conclusions the report is useful reading for those worried about what is happening.

Provider Take up of filters for new customers
BT 5% rises to 9% if you count device level filtering software too
Sky 8%
TalkTalk 36%
Virgin Media 4.3% 13% choose filtering, but this drops to 4.3% when you count just parental controls

The difference in take-up is pretty large with TalkTalk taking the clear lead, largely in part due to the length of time their filters have been operational and the publicity TalkTalk has received along with continued promotion of the HomeSafe system during the sales process, i.e. they use it as a sales tactic to attract a family demographic.

Virgin Media was the last of the major operators to the network level filtering party and has the least granular system at present whereas the other three operators provide more levels of control. Virgin Media also has not implemented an email based notification system so that the account holder is notified when the controls are changed, and the Ofcom paper reveals that in many cases Virgin Media engineers have bypassed the question at install time and this is being resolved apparently so that more customers get presented with the choice.

The approaches for how the filtering works also varies and this can have positive and negative consequences.

  • BT and Virgin Media network level controls use a DNS system to filter requests with 'suspect' domains and associated URL being passed via a proxy to make the final filter decision.
  • Sky use a totally DNS based system.
  • TalkTalk is believed to check every URL against the classified list of URLs.

It may be coincidence but DNS look-ups have been behind several issues at a number of these providers and it may be that the extra work load of the filtering systems might be partially responsible. Certainly a system that relies on a proxy could have issues if a very commonly accessed domain was being sent via it. The advantage though of a proxy system is that just parts of a site can be blocked, though the pure DNS approach does have the advantage of making it easier to block app based smut.

The biggest problem for many parents will be identifying why something is not working and while for a full site block the re-directs to the blocked pages are more than sufficient, the fact that services like Xbox Live and twitter just time-out when blocked by parental controls can create confusion. Work needs to take place on how apps and other services can be warned about a block and timely messages passed to the actual user.

It will be interesting to see if the final of three reports by Ofcom looks at the issue where sites are not classified and thus bypass the parental controls and how families manage parental controls when there are children of varying ages, i.e. blocking social networking maybe appropriate for a six year old but for a fifteen year old would have them feeling like a social outcast.

Hopefully Ofcom will continue to track the filtering systems, particularly as over time they are likely to evolve to reflect the political and moral outlook of those operating them which may not always be apparent to subscribers. To some extent this is already the case when you look at the range of categories offered by each system.

Comments

Posted by otester over 2 years ago
A positive thing about this censorship is that the kids will learn how to circumvent it which they will need later on as the government starts to pick off more political sites.
Posted by adslmax over 2 years ago
Government always a failure!
Posted by johnmiles101 over 2 years ago
Talk Talk with 36% take up has been running filter for longest - so suggests around 30% is the long running take-up ( making allowance for higher or lower values depending on how the option is presented).

Interetingly, According to ONS 2012 statistics approx 30% of households have 1 or more children - so as its mainly such households that would use a 'child' filter, 30% of households sounds like quite a good takeup.



Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 2 years ago
We didn't filter our son's internet investigations when he was younger, we just warned him what he might come across and what he might want to avoid, and encouraged him to talk to us if he had any concerns. It certainly seemed to work for us and him far better than any restrictive regime would have done and he is now a highly computer literate and respected PhD working on the Ubuntu Touch phone and tablet OS.
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 2 years ago

Driving your children into secretive internet usage is far more dangerous than being open and encouraging -- maybe the government could do with realising this when dealing with the adult population!
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