Parental Controls are a topic that tends to be devicisve since people view any external influence on how they use their broadband connection as an invasion of their privacy. Sky launched its parental controls back in 2013, with new broadband customers since they being given the choice of whether to turn them on or off or pick from a variety of levels, i.e. PG, 13, 18 or custom. A new blog from Sky has indicated that for all existing Sky customers that also have access to the controls and have not made an active decision to turn them on or off yet then the controls will default to the PG level during daytime hours.
A default setting of On, seems to go against some of the things said during the last few years, but the messaging has been so mixed that it is difficult to truly know what the real policy was, and as the policies have been driven by campaigns and letters from the Prime Ministers office there has not been the same degree of oversight that would be possible if legislation was enacted. The broadband providers have generally preferred to act and avoid the legislation as the view of many is that legislation would be even more onerous.
The Sky parental controls do make it clear if you are using a web browser and a page is blocked, but there are concerns over how this will work with services like Xbox Live and tablet and phone apps which will simply see data requests refused and may confuse a household where the account holder is not at home. There is the potential scenario that if an account holder is out of contact when the new controls switch to safe mode that others in a home may find themselves unable to access sites with no way to nuance the control level.
Parental controls are a very useful tool for parents, but we hope that parents are not going to rely on them as a replacement for parenting, particularly as the controls do not catch every scenario and for households with children of various ages frustration is likely to see older children rapidly learning how to bypass the filters.
The worry now for online businesses is how is their site categorised, and if an online retailer that is mis-categorised and sees sales drop who do they appeal to. Alternatively a site that has a mixture of PG/13/18 articles will they see the number of visitors drop and affect advertising income. It is important to realise that a PG safe Internet does not just mean blocking pornography, but includes online gaming and social networking.
It will be interesting to see how the public reacts, and also how Sky handle the roll-out of the default on and the various mistakes that seem almost inevitable.
Update Friday 23rd January After some further dissection of the blog article, we believe that the actual blocking by default will be at the 13 age level, but if the person browsing in this default state visits a 13 rated site they will be asked to review their Sky Shield settings before being allowed to visit the site, though access will be blocked to 18+ rated sites unless you change the settings in the portal. If people are browsing to a PG rated site then there will be no pestering at all.