Parental Internet Controls and how our children can surf in safety has always been a big issue.
But recently the issue has taken on a political dimension, with the UK Government discussing proposals that would see ISPs legally required to provide customers with automatic filtering or at the very least, present a filtering option during sign up.
All of the big UK ISPs have agreed to offer whole home filtering to all subscribers, which will affect all devices using the same home internet connection. This means parents don’t have to install and configure security software on each device.
We’ve taken a look at what the five biggest ISPs in the UK currently offer to subscribers. When comparing the security packages of BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Sky and EE, we noticed that they all offered many of the same features and functions.
Every parental security package offered by the UK’s main ISPs includes:
- Home network profiling: the ability for parents to create individual log ins for everyone in the family. This allows parents to do a number of things including:
- Filter certain categories of sites: parents can tailor-make a profile for each of their children, locking out certain things such as chat rooms, instant messaging programs (like Windows Live Messenger, Skype, AIM) social networks (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter) and other sites which may fall under content categories like ‘alcohol’, ‘dating’, ‘nudity’, or ‘swearing’ and so on.
- Fine tune filter lists: sometimes filters don’t always work or they’ve not been updated quickly enough, meaning things slip through. Thankfully parents can fine tune lists themselves to block anything not already covered. Similarly, if you’re finding that filters are blocking access to innocent or innocuous sites, then you’ll be able to unblock anything that’s been caught up in the dragnet too.
- Schedule online work times: through profile management, parents can specify when their kids can go online and what they can access as certain times. With time scheduling, parents can restrict access to social networks and ‘fun’ sites like YouTube until homework is done. Access to the internet can be shut off after lights out if need be.
- Password protect access: by setting up profiles, parents will have to password-protect access to the control panel to stop kids logging in and removing all of the content restrictions on their own profiles.
In most cases you’ll be required to install the same software on each computer you want protected and have one computer (usually the main home computer) as the main control centre.
Every ISP clearly explains how to do this on their sites – we’ve included How To videos (where available) from Virgin Media and O2 which should give you an idea of how to do this.
In some cases there’s no limit to the number of PCs you can have covered in your home, in some cases you’ll be limited to a set amount or you’ll have to pay for extra coverage.
Let’s take a look at the parental controls offered by each ISPs, how they differ and their pros and cons.
BT Parental Controls
BT Parental Controls is a whole-home filtering solution that was launched in December 2013.
Parental Controls lets parents pick from three pre-set levels of fitering depending on the ages of children in the home.
A great feature of BT’s Parental Controls offering is that these lists can be customised and tailored, letting parents add or remove websites as they see fit.
The filters can also be turned on and off at specific times. This has the advantage of letting parents set homework time boundaries, shutting out access to distractions like Facebook and Netflix when studying should be taking place.
Another plus in BT’s favour is that is filters also claim to block well-known proxies and DNS workarounds, which can be used by savvier internet users to bypass filtering.
BT Parental Controls
- Pre-set levels of filtering: Three levels which can be customised by parents
- Monitor instant message conversations: keep an eye on what’s being said
- Free feature of BT Broadband: no extra purchase necessary
TalkTalk: TalkTalk HomeSafe
TalkTalk HomeSafe is a service which comes built in to TalkTalk broadband. HomeSafe is ready to go when you sign up for TalkTalk broadband and doesn’t need to be installed.
You will, however, have to set it up as it’s turned off my default. HomeSafe is easy to enable and use – all you need to do to access it is simply log in to your TalkTalk MyAccount on TalkTalk’s site.
From there you’ll be presented with three options – Kids’ Safe, Homework Time and Virus Alert.
Kids’ Safe lets you filter your internet connection, letting you filter out specific websites and certain types of websites quickly and easily. You’re presented a list of category options to check off the list as well as tool to enter the addresses of any websites you want blocked.
Homework Time lets you block access to social networks and gaming sites at certain times of day, so your children can use the internet for research and homework without the potential for distractions that the internet offers. This even comes with a handy ‘Monday to Friday only’ option so you can restrict access to distracting sites until the weekend.
Virus Alert helps prevent viruses from being downloaded, by letting users know that they’ve visited a suspected site. Any and all of these services can be turned on and off as they’re needed.
As HomeSafe is a built in feature of TalkTalk, there are no extra fees and no software subscriptions to be renewed.
Virgin Media: Virgin Media Security Parental Controls
Virgin Media offers Virgin Media Security as a standard feature of its broadband packages.
Applicable to up to three different PCs at once, Virgin Media Security Parental Controls let parents create profiles for everyone in the home. Children need to log in with a username and password, and parents can assign specific website filters and controls to each username.
Older children can have a more relaxed profile suitable to their age group and as Virgin Media says: “You can set up a profile with no restrictions for the adults in the house, so you can still enjoy that Schwarzenegger flick once the kids have gone to bed.”
As well as setting up blocks on adult sites restrictions can be applied to instant messaging sites (Windows Live, AIM), social networks (Facebook, Myspace and Twitter) and gambling sites too.
For busier households with more than three PCs, you can add extra security for an additional £2.50/month. Part of Security Identity+ (Virgin Media’s royal flush of additional security software), this lets you install the parental controls on up to seven machines, increasing the range of protection you have.
Virgin Media’s Security Parental Controls are provided by Trend Micro. Virgin Media’s hands-on video below to see how it all works.
Sky Broadband Shield
Sky’s Broadband Shield is a network-level filtering solution that can be applied to the whole home. All devices connected to a Sky Broadband home with Broadband Shield activated will be subjected to the same level of filtering.
Launched in November 2013, parents can pick from three age-rated filters – PG (under 13), 13, and 18 – to decide what’s best for their families.
Parents have the option to fine tune these filters, blocking any sites deemed innapropriate or adding any blocked sites which parents find acceptable.
New customers will be asked if they want Sky Broadband Shield installed during sign up. Existing customers will be able to activate it by signing in with their Sky iD.
EE Broadband: McAfee Multi Access and Family Protection
EE Broadband customers can benefit from a free 12-month subscription to Multi Access and Family Protection, which normally cost £74.99 and £30.99 each.
After the first year, you’ll have the option of renewing your subscription for both packages for £45, representing a discount of over £60.
The McAfee software works with Windows PC, Macs, phones and tablets and lets parents apply age-appropriate settings which block out inappropriate content. Parents will be notified by email if any attempt to access a blocked site is made. McAfee Multi Access also allows parents to track, lock or remotely wipe lost or stolen phones and tablets.
What else can parents do?
As well as being aware of what your ISP offers, parents can do a number of things to keep an eye on their children’s web use. Keep your main home computer in the main communal room of the house, somewhere where everyone can use it and where you can see what your kids are looking at.
If you’ve got more than one computer and your children have computers in their bedrooms, set some house ground rules so your children know how you expect them to use the internet, what to do and what not to do online.
Encourage them to never give out any details of their address, where they go to school or their phone number. Take an interest in their online life and what they’re doing. Remind them that when they get older restrictions on their web use can change and be lifted.
Which other ISPs offer parental internet controls?
Claranet Soho’s Childsafe software offers parents greater filtering controls over their internet connections. This is a free service that’s part of Claranet Soho and doesn’t cost any extra.
We’ll be covering details of new and emerging parental control platforms as well as looking at what other UK ISPs offer customers.