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ISP porn filters block legitimate sex education sites

Well-meaning ISPs launching adult content filters for families are inadvertently catching legitimate sex education and health sites up in the dragnet.

Sites such as Bish.UK, which provides free sexual health advice for teenagers, has been blocked by TalkTalk as has the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre site.

BT, Sky and TalkTalk now offer network-level filtering software, which lets customers restrict access to specific types of websites, including pornography, gambling sites, social networks and self-harm sites.

ISP porn filters block legitimate sex education sites
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Read Recombu Digital’s guide to Parental Internet ControlsWhile the blocks, which applies restrictions to all devices connected to the home broadband router, are useful tools for parents, they’re often indiscriminate.

The BBC reports that TalkTalk’s HomeSafe software blocked the two above sites as it had classed them as pornography. TalkTalk said in response that it is constantly evaluating and refining HomeSafe and that mistakes will be corrected as they’re discovered.

A TalkTalk spokesman said: ” Sadly there is no silver bullet when it comes to internet safety and we have always been clear that no solution can ever be 100 per cent. We continue to develop HomeSafe and welcome feedback to help us continually improve the service.”

A report by The Register reveals that BT’s recently launched porn blocker allows parents to unblock sex education sites while keeping pornography filtered.

Toggling the ‘Sex Education’ filter with BT Parental Controls will: “block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.”

Sex education sites like Bish.UK will be blocked by default unless parents opt to turn it on. Parents with young children may want to keep this blocked until their kids are a little older or keep them blocked along with everything else.

Sky’s Broadband Shield has a similar system where parents can pick from three pre-defined levels of filtering – PG, 13 and 18. All of these can be customised to allow or deny access to individual websites, overriding the pre-defined categories, should something harmless get inexplicably filtered.

A recent survey of public WiFi hotspots found that sex education sites were being blocked by content filters, as well as sites with names containing blacklisted keywords such the site for a local Scunthorpe paper. David Cameron has called for all public WiFi operators to block pornography by default and for the UK’s main ISPs to set up and install parental controls.

While not legally required to do so, BT, Sky and TalkTalk have all launched filtering solutions with Virgin Media planning to launch a similar system in early 2014.

Image: Pete Birkinshaw/Flickr

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